Best Fall Crop Success Tips – Starter Plants

fall crop starter plants success tips

I think the Fall is my favorite season to garden. The anticipation of cooler weather is an obvious bonus after the super-hot Summer.  But I think for me it’s more that “we can do this because of where we live” aspect of it. Much of our country will be way too cold to sprout anything by the end of this month (could you imagine?), and we can plant seeds in November and they sprout.  It actually amazes and fascinates me.  

Anyway, this week in the Blog I wanted to talk about a couple of topics for Best Fall Crop Success.  Specifically, how Starter Plants can help you with that success.

Best Fall Crop Success Tip #1: Succession Planting

fall crop Succession planting starters

Have you heard the term Succession planting?  It’s the idea of not planting all of your seeds/plants all at the same time, so that you can extend your harvest time over weeks instead of all the plants bearing crops all at the same time.

So, to make this happen, your plantings would have to be spaced apart in time.  One way to do succession planting is to start some seeds and starter plants at the same time.  The starter plants are more advanced, and will bear their fruits/vegetables before the plants that will come from the seeds.  This will give you two distinct harvest periods, which is good!

But you can do even better, extending your harvest even longer.  This requires you to make a schedule of seeding every 7-15 days for the same crop. Some of the factors to consider in the schedule include: time of year, germination time, length of time to harvest, if it’s one harvest or several from the same plant. Honestly, it’s a game of experimentation.

succession planting starter schedule fall spring crop
This is an example of a succession planting schedule for lettuce in Portland, OR – they’ve created a great way to plan for an “even harvest” instead of a “bulk harvest”. Notice it takes into account expected harvest dates based on the “time to harvest” of the particular kind of vegetable, and the duration of harvests that you can get. This gives you a schedule so you’ll know what is needed and when!! A great way to plan your garden chores & tasks, right?

For instance, if you know that you can’t possibly eat a dozen tomato plants worth of tomatoes all at the same time, then you could plant four seeds today, 2-4 more in a week, 2-4 more the week after that, etc., until you get to the 12 plants you wanted initially. This works really well when you are seeding in seed cells to transplant into the ground later – it’s easier to see your plants sprouting, keep count of what’s planted, and track your planting dates. (A garden journal is also very handy to track).

Have I covered the idea of Succession planting well here?  If you have questions, let me know.

Best Fall Crop Success Tip #2: Starting with Starters

starting with starters fall crop

When someone is a beginner gardener – like REALLY a beginner – or just has a super-busy schedule, but still wants to dedicate a little time to fresh air, sunshine, and getting their hands dirty to grow their own food, I recommend starting your garden with Starter plants.

Starter plants from our store arrive strong and healthy. They are ready to pop into the ground right away, but have a little wiggle room if you pick them up on Tuesday morning but you can’t plant them until Saturday morning (with proper watering and light, mind you…no plant is bulletproof!).

We also don’t order plants when it’s challenging to grow them. You won’t see us carrying lettuce in July, because it’s too hot here. That’s one of the ways we help you here at Shell’s – we don’t bait you with plants that won’t thrive in the wrong seasons that will waste your money and time. Questions? Just ask.

fall starter plants at Shell's Feed & Garden Supply
Starter plants are IN for the 2020 season! Come get them!

When you grow from Starters, you’re skipping the uncertainty of the germination period of seeds.  Some seeds can be quite finicky, depending on what you’re trying to grow.  Your lifestyle determines if you have the time to deal with them.  Some folks just like the certainty of Starters.  It’s already germinated.  It’s ready to grow into food after transplanting. Done.

Speaking of transplanting, I wrote an article with Transplanting tips in it last Fall that you might find useful.  It’s here, take a look!

Also, the easiest gardening I’ve ever done has been in the EarthBOX. Once it’s planted, there’s no weeding, no mess, no fertilizer schedule. All you have to do is water the box through the watering tube on the corner, and you get great growth and harvests. Easy because you don’t even need to have a yard to have fresh produce – a balcony or porch with South, SouthEast, or West exposure will do just fine. We have 3 models of EarthBOX in multiple colors to choose from. If you want to know more about them, stop in and ask us!  We’re happy to help.

Best Fall Crop Success Tip #3: Choose the Right Plants for Fall

choose the right starter plants fall crop

It’s amazing the number of times that folks are looking to plant things that aren’t suited for Fall growing here in Florida.  That list is pretty small, mind you – you can grow nearly everything in the Fall here.  Some crops are more successful than others this time of year, that’s all we’re saying.

So, to help with that, at the store we have a Garden Guide that gives you an idea of what to plant when – as of right now, it’s available in-store only!!  Worth the trip in my opinion!  

Each month on our social media feed we also share the UF IFAS illustrations with similar information.  Those posts cover all of Florida – and the Shell’s Garden Guide is specific to our climate here in Central Florida.  We’ve just distilled it down a little further.  They’re both great guides.  Here’s the September UF IFAS illustration if you want to look at it.

Best Fall Crop Success Tip #4: Consistency

start with consistency fall crop

If you asked me the one thing that makes people give up on gardening, it’s that they plant all their seeds and starters and everything, and then just let their garden fend for itself.  And their garden fails, in one or several rather spectacular ways.  After that they convince themselves they have a black thumb and never try again.

Don’t be that person.  There’s a method to our madness – promise.

What most would-be gardeners don’t see is the consistent work that their gardens take to maintain.  They see the successes posted on Facebook, in Better Homes & Gardens, and all the other bright shiny moments in the lives of other gardeners, without knowing the gritty, dirty, hot, sweaty, frustrating, weed-pulling, soil-amending, full-on effort that actually is gardening.

How do you find the way and the time to balance your obsession with plants with all your other responsibilities?  First and foremost, you have to dedicate the time and effort.  It has to be a decision you make that is non-negotiable.  Then, put it in your schedule.  Even if it’s just 5 minutes during the weekdays and 20 minutes on the weekend days, put your time and effort into it. Get some help, and share the spoils.

fall gardening with family
Gardening is great as a family affair – there’s plenty of work to go around.

You’d be amazed what you can accomplish in a CONSISTENT pattern of gardening in 5 minutes a day.  

Think of it this way – if you did a solid 5 minutes of all out “Squats-til-you-drop” EVERY SINGLE DAY – how strong would your glutes be after a year?  Solid, right?  And it’s just 5 minutes of your time.

Side note on this topic: One of my favorite books in the whole world right now is The Compound Effect by Darren J. Hardy. I’ve read it, and listened to it on audio, at least 10 times in the last 2 years.  It’s a great reminder that small purposeful actions done consistently over time yield the greatest results – and it’s so successful because so many others don’t do it  Success is easy.  Doing what it takes to make that success is the hard part because we as humans are NOT consistent.  It’s human nature.

Anyway – those are my best tips for success this Fall in your garden!

Gardening is often a frustrating love. But when you hit the jackpot, gosh, there’s no better feeling than eating what you’ve grown with your consistent toil and hard work.  And, I can guarantee, nothing more delicious. 

Another quick tip – no matter your failures, look for the lessons.  Failures happen so we can learn and do better. 

garden journal
Garden journals are an easy way to keep track of your self-education in the garden. Making the same mistakes over and over again is the definition of insanity – and it’s easy to forget what didn’t work. Writing it down is a game-changer for future success!

There’s no greater education than totally messing up. But only if you WANT to learn from it. Which you should, because it’s the only way to make sweetness from the sour.

Until next time, Keep Growing!

Marissa

Five Fun Florida Fall Crops

We are gearing up for Fall growing season here in Florida. If you’ve been following our social media then you know that to be true.  August is Fall Seed planting month, so if you want some tips for seed planting in fall, take a look at last week’s blog: Florida Fall Gardening Starts NOW! for more on that.

This week, while you might be making your garden plans, I thought it would be fun to mention Five Fun Florida Fall Crops to consider planting this year, in no particular order.

Fun Florida Fall Crop #1:  Winter Squash

Winter Squash comes in many shapes, sizes and colors, and here in Florida the fall is a great time to plant them.  As the weather cools down you’re going to want to have these lovely squash on hand to roast for dinner, to make soups (see my Butternut Squash soup recipe in this blog post: Delish Dishes From The Backyard).

Winter squash is, in my opinion, easier to grow in the cooler months, because there’s a lessening threat to the vines from insects. You still have to watch for cutworms and other such beasties but when it does finally cool off, they usually go dormant.

Since I mentioned vines, most of the winter squash varieties do grow on vines, so having some sort of trellis system is very important for these lovely things.  If you want some guidance on some trellis-like structures, take a look at the blog from about a month ago on structures you can build in the garden: Useful Garden Structures You Can Build. I specifically dream of a hoop trellis that I can walk under and pick these lovelies from a comfortable position – standing!

Fun Florida Fall Crop #2:  Broccoli/Broccolini/Broccoli Raab

Broccoli is so delicious.  I eat it as much as possible. When I grow it myself it’s an extra special treat!

There are several different varieties of veggies from the broccoli family, and all of them are exciting and delicious. Everyone has had the large heads of broccoli from the grocery store, but have you had the ones that are kinda like broccoli and asparagus had a baby? Long and thin stalks, with broccoli flowers at the ends, broccoli raab and broccolini are delicious and nutritious too.  In many ways, they’re easier to cook too!

All of the broccolis like cooler weather, so we can plant them in Fall, Winter, and very early Spring here in Florida.  Right now, they will germinate fast in the warmer weather, but as they get around to creating their flowers (the broccoli heads that you eat are actually lots of little flowers buds!) it will be cool enough that they won’t bolt too quickly (the yellow flowers bloom).

Did you know that broccoli is in the same family as cauliflower, cabbage, canola (aka rapeseed), kale, bok choy, kohlrabi, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts?  Family Brassicaeae is the Cruciferous vegetables!  Such an important family for vitamins and minerals, as well as the sulphur compounds they contain which have widely been found to be preventative in diseases such as cancer.

Fun Florida Fall Crop #3:  Heirloom Tomatoes

I think that Fall is a great time to plant your Heirloom Tomatoes.  I think of Fall as the time when pests will be diminishing as we reach the colder months, and heirloom tomatoes have a better chance of survival to fruiting when there are less pests.  This is because they don’t have the benefits of hybridization to give them disease-thwarting characteristics like blight and virus resistance.  I also find that bugs LOVE my heirlooms, and there are less bugs in the Fall.

I guess it goes without saying that the more tomatoes I can eat, as many seasons of the year that I can grow them, I’m going to do so.  Do you feel the same way about tomatoes as I do?

Fun Florida Fall Crop #4:  Kale

Planting Kale is so rewarding. So many nutritious types out there for you to experiment with, including decorative ones!  Kale is one of those plants that can be edible AND beautiful, and for that reason alone they will always have a place in my Fall, Winter, and Spring gardens.

Red Russian Kale has beautiful hues of reds and pinks as well as green. Lacinto (Dino) Kale come up dark green with a blue hue, Curly-leaf Kale (like Scots) and Blue Vates that make really fun kale chips and the younger leaves are awesome for wraps or boats (think a leafy taco).  

Then there’s the kale that looks like pretty frilly cabbage heads in bright white with green fringe and dusky lavender centers with green fringe; these ornamental kale are usually used along sidewalks to define garden borders with bright beautiful and interesting color for Fall and Winter flower beds and also as the “Chiller” in the “Thriller, Chiller, Spiller” formula of container plantings this time of year.

Fun Florida Fall Crop #5: Rutabagas & Turnips

OK, I cheated here…I put two into one category.  But I did it for a reason – mainly because they are so very similar to grow, and to eat. They’re so good!  And pretty easy to grow too.

These are cool season root vegetables that can be started in Fall.  They’re a direct-sow for the most part.  Like most root vegetables, you don’t want to damage the root system by transplanting.  Luckily they’re quite easy to sow, and they even space themselves out so you don’t have to do too much thinning.  They literally just push themselves apart as they grow (unlike carrots, which you have to thin or they won’t do much – they’re much more delicate).

Rutabaga and turnips are a great low calorie substitute for potato dishes, with lots of fiber.  You can mash them, fry them, bake them.  I absolutely love making rutabaga and turnip “french fries” in the oven – oil, salt, pepper (or try your fav salt-based steak seasoning!) and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until edges are brown and crispy and the centers are soft.  Flip them about halfway through for even browning (it’s not necessary but it can help for presentation if you’re looking to impress).  They have a slightly sweet taste but it’s not overpowering, it compliments the salt and pepper very nicely.

A beautiful Florida Fall Garden

OK, there’s my Five Fun Florida Food Crops recommendation to try this year.  How many of these made YOUR garden list this year?

Until next time, Keep Growing!

Sincerely,

Marissa

Florida Fall Gardening Starts NOW!

Florida Fall Gardening Starts Now!

Florida has the distinction of being the Southern-most of the 48 contiguous States, and as such, our growing and gardening seasons are a bit different than most of the rest of the country.  

gardening plant hardiness zone map from the USDA
Our Agricultural Zones for our beautiful state – what it really says: “It’s HOT”.

People that move here from more northern climates are a bit lost at first when it comes to gardening. They’re used to the commercials for big box stores telling them when to plant – and having that information be correct.  Here, it’s not necessarily correct, in fact, they can steer you completely wrong!  Here’s a nice guide I wrote for our “Northern Transplants” to the Sunshine state. 

In response to the #1 question we get at Shell’s – “what can I plant right now?” – this week’s blog is about what you can do right now to start your Florida Fall Garden.

Florida Fall Gardening Seed Planting

Because we can garden in Florida all year long, it’s hard to sometimes figure out what to plant when.  The UF/IFAS guides are very helpful in this.  Here’s the August chart from the extension office:

what to plant in august gardening guide
The UF/IFAS extension office service has great guides on what to do when in the garden. I tend to follow the North “Easily Survives Transplanting” and the Central list for my Fall Seeds that I plant in August.

As you can see, August is a great time to start your seeds for Fall.  Most everything you can grow in Spring can be grown in Fall.  There are exceptions, of course, and we go over that in our “What to Plant in Your Fall Florida Garden” class – coming soon as an online webinar course for social distancing purposes!

Seed Planting – Sow in pots or in the ground?

Another common question is “Where/how should I plant my seeds?”

gardening places to plant seeds
There’s many options on where to plant seeds!

Well, the best answer I can give is “it depends.”

Some crops cannot be transplanted very easily, and those should be planted directly in the ground (or wherever they’re going to live their lives).  Others grow really easily no matter where you’re starting them, and thus can be done in seed trays or pots – or the EarthBOX!

Examples of plants that shouldn’t be transplanted because they damage very easily: carrots, celery, mustards. That said, people have done transplanting with few issues!

Gardening is an adventure – the purpose is to TRY things and see if they work!

What growing medium should I plant my seeds in for any type of gardening?

There’s so many answers to this question.  Potting soil works just fine for most people.  It’s got good drainage, aeration, and organic material.

growing mediums in gardening for seed planting
Many options for seed starting that we carry here at Shell’s! Even more than what is pictured here!

Many people really like seed starting or germination mixes as well. These mixes are lighter weight to ensure that the seeds don’t rot and have the best chance of sprouting. Most of them have no soil in them whatsoever, rather they’re made of things like coco coir, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and/or compost.

Do my seeds need fertilizer to be put in the soil/germination medium?

I absolutely LOVE this question. Because the answer is NO. Seeds have everything they need to sprout already inside them – and that makes gardening just a little bit easier.

 Had to put some nerdy biology stuff in here – it’s literally in my DNA. This is an example anatomy of a seed (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica).

See that big grey area of the body of the corn kernal? That area is a stockpile of energy that the embryo uses to grow and differentiate into to roots, stems and leaves, and it’s called the endosperm.  It uses that until it can grow to the point where it starts its own photosynthesis. Pretty cool, right?

Beginner’s gardening tip: Seeds will need water – not too much! – and warmth to sprout.

Once they have their second/third leaves, then they’re about ready for some extra food when you transplant to help them get through the shock of transplanting. 

>>>Don’t know how to transplant? Don’t worry, we’ll be covering that at the beginning of next month right here in the blog!  So look out for that.<<<

What is this colored stuff on my seeds?

Some seeds have a coloration coated on their surfaces.  The purpose could be one of two things.

the purpose of seed coloring, gardening
Examples of seeds that are colored.

The first, and most common in bulk seeds, is a light coating of a water-soluble fungicide. The purpose of this coat is to protect susceptible seeds from rotting due to fungus in the soil before it has time to sprout.

You see, fungus is GREAT to have in the soil for decomposition of your organic materials like leaves, sticks, and compost. BUT, the same fungi that do that magical work can also decompose more fragile seeds before they have a chance to do their thing, decreasing your germination rates significantly.

But don’t worry, those fungicides break down very quickly and don’t have a lasting effect on the local biodiversity and ecosystem.  It just gives the seeds a fighting chance.  None of the fungicide ends up in the food you’re trying to produce (promise!!).

Fungi are awesome at reproduction! (Source: YellowElanor.com)

The other reason to color the seeds are for the purpose of seeing the seeds that you put in the soil. Some seeds are very small and hard to see, so some companies put a harmless coloring on the seeds to make them stand out against the color of the soil.  So if you drop one, or plant too many in a hole while you’re gardening, you can find them and put them where they belong.

The other reason to color the seeds are for the purpose of seeing the seeds that you put in the soil. Some seeds are very small and hard to see, so some companies put a harmless coloring on the seeds to make them stand out against the color of the soil.  So if you drop one, or plant too many in a hole, you can find them and put them where they belong.

Next Steps: Pick and Plant Your Fall Gardening Seeds

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get you started on your Fall Garden. Get seeds for things that you want to plant.

fall gardening
This is what you have to look forward to when you start seeds right now for Fall!

I like to use seeds for things that are easy to grow. I also like to use them for vegetables/fruits that you can’t often find as a starter plant.  Specialty and rare plants, heirloom varieties, and very specific hybrids are just some of the reasons to pick up seeds.

 (by the way, starter plants arrive at Shell’s in September…just FYI)

Have a list of seeds you’re looking for, or have extra to trade? Join our Shell’s Garden Community on Facebook and talk to other local gardeners in there to make some swaps! You can also ask questions and get answers from our group members (and me!).

Shell's Garden Community - your private group about local gardening on Facebook!
Join us!

Normally I’d be inviting you to a free Monthly Community Seed Swap, but because of COVID-19 these activities are suspended right now.  Of course you can always use the store as a meetup point to make your swaps, we’d love to see you!

I hope this article helps get you motivated to start some seeds for your Fall Garden right now.

I hope this article helps get you motivated to start some seeds for your Fall Garden right now.

Until next time, Keep Growing!

Sincerely,

Marissa

Simple Sustainability to Declare Your Independence

Simple Sustainability to Declare Your Independence

If this Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted one thing for me, it is how dependent our society has become on the grocery store food and supply distribution system, and how that system is not built with sustainability in mind. Seeing the empty shelves and the panic (accompanied by much bad behavior, I must say!), it made me think for a moment, “What if I could get the majority of my food from my yard?”

It’s not a new thought for me. As you may know from other of my writings or a class I’ve taught, my Dad was a subsistence farmer. He grew what he could year round and traded for what he could get – which was pork, chicken, eggs, and manure to compost for the garden, all from his neighbor. He also fished and sold fishing & composting worms. That is mostly how he stayed fed.  He and Mema (his mom) canned veggies and made pickles for when things didn’t grow so well, or just to enjoy.

He lived in a very rural area with more land than I’ve ever owned.  So, years ago I asked myself, could I grow my own food here in the city on a small plot of land? My answer was yes. While I still have a lot to learn (you never stop learning when you’re a gardener), over the years I’ve made it so that I can get a lot of nutrition out of the land I farm. 

sustainability of your garden

This bounty is possible, and more flavorful, when you do it yourself.

I imagine many people interested in gardening for food ask themselves that quite often, when they’re scheming and planning to make their yards into places where beautiful and edible things grow. Trust me…you can do it.

I decided to ask some local folks who REALLY know about growing your own, sustainably, just to give you some inspiration and more resources to check out.

Amongst our customers and friends of Shell’s, we have quite a few who practice sustainability and eat mostly what they grow.  From massive Earthbox gardens to food forests to backyard nurseries and front yard landscapes full of edibles, aka “yardens”, there are members of our community right here in Tampa Bay who do this kind of food growing.  I think this is a great opportunity to pick their brains – in the hopes that their stories will inspire others to Declare Independence from Mass Food Distribution in a time where the question of where our food comes from has a shaky and indefinite answer.

Empty shelves in the produce section - modern food supply does not have sustainability

Empty Produce shelves at the grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic. Look Familiar? Photo credit: Travis Wise

I asked what it means to them and their family to know that they could sustain themselves if the food distribution system was suddenly no longer there, and what Sustainability means to them.  Because the concept of sustainability is more than just growing your own food, it’s about replenishing the soil nutrients you use to grow your food and maintaining as much as possible the natural balance of the land so that you can continually grow more food and not strip the environment.

Here’s what they had to say. Also, I’ve linked you up with how to get in contact with them so that we can all expand our community, hear the voices, and see the inspiration of these local gardening/farming influencers.

Amanda Streets – Clearwater

Living Roots Eco Design - focused on sustainability

A heavy focus on native plants for pollinators and growing your own food, Amanda helps people design their own Yardens with a focus on building healthy soil for a healthy life!

“I grew up on a working farm, so gardening and a pantry full of home-canned goodies is just the way it is. Food growing in abundance in our urban “yarden” carries on my family’s long tradition of farming, even though we don’t have fields to plow. It is important to pass these skills on to my child. Our family is busy – there’s not always time for a quick trip to the grocery store. Dashing out to the garden to harvest fruit for lunches or greens for a salad is the norm – and even better now that our child is able to take on that responsibility. Knowing where our food comes from is important. I know how it’s been grown, what has been applied, and whether it was picked ripe or green. We also know that it is there. When the store shelves were empty in March and April, that was a little scary. Whether or not there is going to be a food shortage in my lifetime, I know that I have the skills and capacity to grow a good amount of fresh, nutrient dense food for my family.”  –Amanda Streets, local Clearwater “Yardener” and nurseryperson, owner of Living Roots Eco Design (https://livingrootsecodesign.com) – and the magical force behind the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance (https://PinellasCommunityCompost.com)

Kenny Gil – Tampa

Kenny Gil's Instagram feed @lig_ynnek - he's all about sustainability

A look at the first six entries on Kenny Gil’s (@lig_ynnek) Instagram feed: instagram.com/lig_ynnek

“Being able to produce as much as we can for our family on our micro-homestead means I get to connect with friends, neighbors and community members, encouraging and teaching them to break away from the mega farms that don’t have the environment, biodiversity, freshness, nutrition and flavor as top priority.”  –Kenny Gil, local Tampa homesteader, growing his own massive variety of fruits and vegetables (https://www.instagram.com/lig_ynnek

Susan Roghair – Tampa

Susan Roghair's Earthbox Garden - sustainability in a box

Images from Susan’s EarthBox Garden, she created a garden from a concrete pad with EarthBox. Shows you can garden ANYWHERE.

“I love to cook! Everything I make is organic, not processed or frozen. I cook only with fresh produce and make everything completely from scratch. I’ve been a vegan for thirty years and my husband, Dan, for over fifty years! One of the things I love about having an EarthBox garden is the accessibility to fresh produce right outside my kitchen door.  There is nothing more fun than harvesting a bunch of veggies and them being on the dinner table minutes later.  You can’t beat that for freshness or convenience!” –Susan Roghair, local Tampa EarthBox enthusiast with (at last count) 24 Earthboxes, and our Earthbox Simple Success Secrets class instructor at Shell’s! (quote is from an article on Earthbox.com: https://blog.earthbox.com/earthbox-get-to-know-a-grower-series-4. Find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/771889789977465/)

John Steele – Tampa

John Steel's Family Homestead Farm - building family food sustainability

Several pictures from John Steele’s Homestead – urban farming in the heart of the city. He has no website or Instagram, but if you want to talk to him, he’s at Shell’s (shellsfeed.com), so stop in and see him.

“Being able to walk through my property and harvest my own food that I have grown or raised has copious amounts of beneficial aspects to it. Some of the most predominant being: Less waste in the form of unsustainable packaging, the gratification and reward of growing, raising, and harvesting your own meals, creating a space for yourself and family to learn and grow together, independence from the grocery store and large retailers, and one of the most (if not the most) important in my family being financial ease and independence. It is hard work to run a fully functional homestead but it is well worth it. I encourage anyone and everyone to give it a shot even if only on a small scale, see what homesteading can do for you and your family. 

Currently on my property we have a small flock of chicken & quail hens that are for the sole purpose of being of layers, along with a few males that play the role of broilers if ever needed. We have a 1000 gallon rainwater collection system in the works as a priority. Numerous fruits and vegetables both established and seedlings.A cleaning station for fish and wild game we catch/hunt and process ourselves, as well as a deep freezer to store it along with a generator large enough to sustain its needs for electricity throughout the hurricane season. In addition to our current resources we are adding our own shade cloth greenhouse, bee hives, and a vermiculture tower in the weeks to come.”  –John Steele, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply Employee, local Tampa homesteader/urban farmer

Tanja Vidovic – Safety Harbor

Tanja Vidovic's Home Garden - A Sustainability Warrior in Tampa Bay!

Pictures from Tanja’s homestead – it’s bananas! Making soap savers out of home-grown loofahs, hubby & the kids, and bat houses mounted on the house! Find her here: www.wmnf.org/sustainableliving and https://www.facebook.com/groups/TampaGardening/

“Sustainability and the ability to grow food on my own property means the difference between food independence and dependability. I feel that if something were to happen to our food system, that me and my family would still survive. Having a food garden in my yard provides us with exercise and needed skills to live without being completely dependent on a broken system. You learn about what it takes to make a healthy soil, healthy plants, and a healthy ecosystem. I was happy to see that this past year, in Florida we approved the right to have front yard gardens. People need to be able to grow their own food, especially in food deserts were the only option may be unhealthy food. Gardening, permaculture, sustainability are all things that most schools should be teaching our younger generation.” –Tanja Vidovic, Safety Harbor homesteader and influencer, Sustainability Radio Show Host on WMNF 88.5FM, and local Environmental Activist, Also, Facebook Group “Tampa Gardening Swap” Creator with nearly 13,000 followers, and prior candidate for Safety Harbor Mayor!

Kenny Coogan – Tampa

Kenny Coogan's City of Tampa Homestead - the picture of self-sustainability

Kenny with pumpkins from his homestead, and one of the stars of the How to Raise Chickens video series, Morticia the Transylvanian Naked Neck Chicken. The Video series is a collaboration between Kenny and Shell’s and this week our 9th episode will premiere on Saturday! Check out #TheChickenChannel. Also, click the picture above to get Kenny’s book, 99 ½ Homesteading Poems, a charming (and poetic) look at homestead life. Includes recipes!

“As a current Global Sustainability grad student at USF, I think a lot about being able to sustain myself from my land. Sustainability has three pillars: social, economic, and environmental. In 2019 I started documenting every egg, fruit and vegetable I produced from my 1 acre home in Tampa. January 2020, I reflected on my year’s harvest and was surprised by how little I grew and ate. Now in 2020 I am focusing on what grows copiously without a lot of work to get my numbers up. I grow a ton of true yams, passionfruit, katuk, moringa, Chaya, chayote squash and Seminole pumpkin. Currently I am growing a lot of okra. Even though I don’t love some of these crops I use them to help the society around me by bartering, trading or selling my surplus. I also focus a lot of my attention on food waste. I jam, pickle or freeze a lot more now to save what I grow. This year I jammed several jars of Surinam cherries – not because I love them – but because they grew abundantly. Combined with strawberries the jam tastes great. Preserving your own food and reducing food waste helps your wallet. Growing as much food as possible and not wasting it helps with the environment as well. It cuts down your food miles and saves on fossil fuels needed to grow and transport the crops. Growing food that is well suited for your ecosystem limits your need for fertilizers, are more resistant to pests and offer flavor profiles that you can’t find at the grocery store.” –Kenny Coogan, local Tampa Homesteader, Chicken Keeper, Nurseryperson, Agriculture Educator, and Global Sustainability Grad Student.

Georgea Snyder, Sustainable Living Project – Tampa

The Sustainable Living Project in Tampa, Florida - educating others in sustainability

The Sustainable Living Project is a place for community, education, and learning sustainable growing practices. I encourage you to check them out!

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the Sustainable Living Project, run by the wonderful Georgea Snyder (who doesn’t know I’m doing this…), a long-time customer of our store and someone who is doing an excellent job at the hard work to run a garden that exists because of the efforts of the volunteers she “recruits” and coordinates. 

Their mission is: “to affect positive change in the community towards becoming more sustainable and healthy in our everyday lives. Using sustainable living on our urban farm and education center as a model to serve, educate, and build community through example, hands-on experiences, and education.  We describe SLP as a place where people can be immersed in the world of sustainability and community. We implement innovative and traditional technologies that help reduce our impact on the environment. Our 1 acre plot houses 34 grow beds (10 of which are dedicated to Veteran volunteers & programming, 3 sheds, a water catchment system, patio with solar panels, a greenhouse with aquaponics, a chicken coop, bee hives, a biodigester, and a 12 stall compost station. All of these elements play a part in our exploration of what it means for our bodies, communities and planet to be healthy.”

Well, I hope seeing these amazing folks doing stellar sustainability things has inspired you to work on your family’s sustainable food sources.  There’s so many aspects to help sustainability, and ways to grow your own food, it can be overwhelming.  But don’t panic!  We’re here to help.

Fall gardening season is coming up – Fall Garden Seed Planting STARTS IN AUGUST! – so when you have questions, when you need supplies…we’re here.  We’ve got free Garden Guides in the store that we publish to use as a reference tool.  We’ve got classes too, great for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.  

We’re here to help, just a short drive away to see us in Tampa.  Check out the buy online and pickup in store – we call it “Buy & Fly” – at shellsfeed.com/shop.  Call us if you don’t see what you’re looking for – not every one of our approximately 5000 items we carry is online.

Until next time…Keep Growing!

Marissa

5 Things You Need to Handle Florida’s Summer Heat

You can just walk outside to know that it’s Hot, I’m sure no one needs to tell you that stifling Heat is a serious factor in the lives of Florida residents and visitors each and every Summer.

But what you may not know is that the thermometer doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. Because of our climate, it is actually MUCH HOTTER than any thermometer says.

In fact, right now, the National Weather Service has issued a Heat Advisory for this week. It’s serious, folks.

Image from findingbackroads.com

And now I get another chance to be a bit of a nerd. Brace yourselves. Ready?

This increase in felt temperature is called the “Heat Index” in meteorological terms, but it is the number that you want to be aware of when you are outside during these Summer months.

Things to Know #1: The Heat Index

The Heat Index is the embodiment of the old (and somewhat laughable phrase), “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” It’s the same laugh that people in Arizona give you, usually with a piercing begrudging look, when you say to them, “but it’s a DRY heat.” You see, Heat Index is a set ratio between the temperature of the air and the relative humidity – the hotter the air and the more humid it is, the higher the Heat Index.

Sweat – our body’s own Air Conditioning System

How does this affect humans? Well, a high Heat Index completely blows out our body’s natural cooling system. When our body wants to cool us down, it sweats, and the process of evaporation makes our skin cool. This is an effective way to eliminate heat from the body.

As the heat and humidity of the air increase, however, your sweat doesn’t evaporate as fast, or at all. You are left with no efficient way to regulate your temperature! And this is where problems begin to arise.

As you can see from this NOAA chart above, a temperature of 88 degrees F with 70% humidity feels like a temperature of 100 degrees F – with all of the heat implications that come with the 100 degree temperature. Yikes!

Things to Know #2: Signs of Heat Exhaustion/Stroke

I have published an article on our website about the Signs of heat exhaustion and stroke previously, so I will link it right here. It’s important to know the basics if you are working outside on a hot day – even a hot morning or evening.

All people’s heat tolerances are different – for instance, mine is not that great. My initial symptoms (for the many times I’ve overexerted myself in my hot garden or landscape) for example are slight dizziness, cloudy thinking, and severe stabbing pain in the back of my head which turns into a migraine. My point in telling you that is because the basic signs of Heat Exhaustion and Stroke are slightly different for everyone.

As I mentioned in my previously published article, your pets can also have Heat-related illness. Make sure that they are able to cope with the heat and have the proper resources they need to stay cool if they are outside pets. If there is no way to keep them cool outside for whatever reason, make sure they can shelter somewhere inside your home.

Things to Know #3: How to Avoid Heat Sickness

Some of this is common sense, but some might be new to you.

Know when the heat is too much. Image from Healthline.
  • Do outside work early in the morning, right after daybreak and finish up before 10 am. This time of year, it’s light outside starting at 6:30am or so, giving you a nice 3 hour chunk of time.
  • If you can’t do the work in the mornings, wait until after 5 pm. In the Summer it’s light until around 8:30-9pm, which gives you several hours again to do what needs done.
  • If the above two weren’t perfectly clear, limit your time outside during the heat of the day. Heat sickness can settle on someone rather quickly and catch us by surprise.
  • Anytime you are outside, drink a LOT of cool water while you work. Avoid sugary drinks, even the popular flavored electrolyte drinks. Add lemon, cucumber, and/or melon for flavor.
  • Cooling towels or a fan in your work area are a great idea if you’re able to work in one place.
  • Have healthy food to snack on before or during your work such as fruit and vegetables. Avoid heavy meats and dairy, those make you hotter. Your body needs energy to sweat and work, and not having energy can make you succumb to heat sickness sooner.
  • Hydrating foods to eat include (but are not limited to): watermelon and other melon, grapes, pineapple, cucumbers, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, lemon water.
  • Take breaks often – go stand somewhere cooler or hose yourself off with the garden hose (or if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor shower or a cool pool). Sit and rest. Stretch. Breathe deeply.

Things to Know #4: Avoid Alcohol

I didn’t include this one in the section above because it is actually quite important.

Alcohol is a substance that pulls water out of your body and eliminates it, mostly in your urine. As such, it robs you of water that your organs and tissues need to do their jobs.

Drinking alcohol dehydrates you. Yes, I know it seems contradictory – how can a liquid drink remove water from your body, right? But it does. So stop it. Or at least down a big glass of actual water between alcoholic drinks.

It’s one thing to have a cold beer at a Summer BBQ. It’s quite another to have your only drinks be a 6-pack of beer while you’re trimming hedges and doing other manual labor in the yard. Stick to the cool water when you’re working in the heat. Save the beer for hanging out with friends at that party.

It could save your life.

Things to Know #5: Be Aware

Do you remember the old GI Joe cartoons, where they said, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!” Or am I just showing my age?

Yep, I remember.

Regardless, it is good to be aware of yourself and how you’re feeling when you are spending time in our Florida heat. Further, you should very much be aware of how your friends and family are handling the heat as well. Look for the signs of heat sickness from the chart in Things to Know #2 above so that you can take appropriate action should it be needed.

You don’t have to obsess about heat safety – goodness knows there is LOTS to do outside in our beautiful State and you don’t want to miss out. Just make sure that you’ve got what you need to stay cool. Be prepared, right?

Spending time at the beach is fun! Just make sure you have hydration, shade, & refreshments!

Hope you have a happy Summer! See you next time.

Keep Growing!

Marissa

Tasty Summer Garden Treats

I’m quite hungry as I write this, so tasty treats are on my mind. I’ll use this inspiration as the motivation to write about one of my favorite topics – food. Especially Summer food.

There’s just something magical about creating food that cools, refreshes, and hydrates you when you need it the most…like when it’s hot outside! (and boy is it – my car registered 101 degrees F yesterday!)

One of my fondest memories of Summer as a kid was going out to Daddy’s garden, picking tomatoes (and whatever else was ripe and ready!), doing some weeding, feeding any worms we found to the neighbor’s chickens, and then coming back in to cool off. Cooling off usually entailed lunch (a kid’s favorite time of day, to be sure)!

Tasty Treats #1: Tomato & Mayo Sandwich

OK – I have to ask – Are you #TeamDukesMayo or #TeamHellmansMayo? Inquiring minds want to know (OK, really just me). Photo by Austin Steele, originally shown in the Gainesville Times.

Often my lunch of these Summer-time moments was a Tomato and Mayo sandwich. Nothing says Summer like this sandwich (and the Gainesville Times agrees with me!). If the South had a song, this sandwich would be a key lyrical point.

Simple. Delicious. Affordable.

Fresh tomatoes, sliced into thick circles, placed on bread smeared with a healthy portion of mayonnaise. Salt, pepper. Done. You’ll find other variations, additions, people “gourmet-ing it up”, but honestly, nothing is better than just simple.

What else can one say about this sandwich? Well, it transports me back to a simpler time, and for a moment the stresses of the modern world retreat. I smile. And when the sandwich is gone I dream of the next one.

Tasty Treats #2: Blueberry, Watermelon, Mint & Feta Salad

from the blog of @SheWearsManyHats.com, this is the original recipe page: https://shewearsmanyhats.com/blueberry-watermelon-feta-mint-salad/

Now, I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of eating melons. BUT, in this salad, they’re actually quite good. It doesn’t hurt that I REALLY love blueberries, feta, mint, and balsamic vinaigrette. If you love all these things, this is a great cool-down refreshing salad to make.

Watermelon has hydrating qualities that can’t be overlooked on hot summer days. Made mostly of water and fiber with a little sugar, served cold it can literally bring down your body temperature in a matter of minutes. Watermelon is also one of the best hydration delivery systems ever – no salt-laden sugary chemical drinks needed!

It’s as easy as it looks folks, cube up some watermelon, add blueberries, crumbled feta, torn mint leaves, and toss lightly, then chill in the fridge for about an hour or so, take it out, drizzle balsamic vinaigrette, and serve. Yum!

Tasty Treats #3: Agua Fresca with Cucumber, Lime, and Mint

Cucumber, Lime, & Mint Agua Fresca, from simplyrecipes.com https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/cucumber_lime_mint_agua_fresca/

Are you sensing a Mint theme here? Yeah, me too. I just can’t help myself.

Mint is used in both Eastern and Western medicines to cool the body, so it’s no wonder it’s in a lot of foods for hot climates.

Cucumber is another food that is excellent at hydrating a parched body. It’s mostly water and fiber, so your body can quickly get the water to your tissues. When you see them over people’s eyes in a spa treatment, it’s because contact with cucumber juice instantly cools and hydrates puffy and/or dry eyes.

Lime (and any citrus, really) has some extra sugars and vitamins to add to your refreshing Summer drink to help you hydrate (and they’re tasty too).

This image is from another recipe for the same thing, Sense & Edibility, a virtual cooking school!: https://senseandedibility.com/cucumber-lime-drink-juice/

The recipe is in the link under the picture. You won’t regret making it! For an additional bit if zing, use water from a Soda Stream machine to give it a little fizz.

Thanks for letting me ramble on about food. I’m going to go make a Tomato & Mayo sandwich and remember my childhood for a few minutes before I move on to my next task for the day!

Take care, and Keep Growing!

Marissa

A Secret View Into a Garden Writer’s Garden

Hi there Gardening Friends!

It’s getting to be that HOT time of year! But really, I’ve not seen it so MILD as it has been this year (2020) this late in the year! Some parts of our country had SNOW just a week ago, and here in Central Florida we had temperatures in the 60s in MAY! It’s really been a special Spring season this year. I hope you’ve been outside enjoying is as much as possible.

I don’t know about you but my garden is doing pretty well!

I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you pictures from my garden, what I’ve been up to, and some of the interesting thing’s I’ve seen and done. I haven’t even gotten around to planting everything I wanted to – Coronavirus stole most of my free time and energy this Spring trying to make sure we had our store open to serve you – but I’m enjoying what I do have, and stuff from Winter/Spring is not bolting as quickly because of the cooler temperatures.

I did plant a lot more flowers than usual this year, and the bees and butterflies are loving it. I planted a lot of wildflowers as well, and that patch hasn’t bloomed yet, I think it will have to get a bit hotter to make that really thrive. Some of the Florida Native wildflowers I planted never germinated, so will have to try again. Hey, even us garden writers have failures!!

Right now, my sweet potato slips are going very strong – great young vines developing right now that I’ll be attempting to train to climb my hog panel trellis (it’s like herding cats…really). Some of the ones that get a little unruly I clip and root to give to friends and neighbors. If you have lots of leaves already, you can use some of the really young tender leaves in recipes like you would spinach (great tip for you foodies out there!).

My sweet potato bed – the new slips are on the left, the ONE slip that was planted in January is the rest!

The vines that are already climbing the trellis are from a slip that I found growing on my counter and stuck in the ground in January. Yes, that’s right, all that is from ONE slip. Sweet potatoes LOVE Florida. Did you know that they are part of the same family as morning glories? That’s why they have those pretty purple flowers!

Speaking of potatoes, and flowers, my regular potatoes made flowers – I usually miss them when they bloom but I happened to get pictures this time. I have a row each of Red Pontiac, White Kennebec, and Yukon Gold, and the flowers bloomed on a couple of my Red Pontiac plants.

An elusive Potato flower, on my Red Pontiac potato plant!

Potatoes are part of the nightshade family, and you can see the relation to other nightshades like eggplant and tomatoes in the shape of the flowers and the stalks. It’s amazing how similar they all are structurally! I’m hoping to see the tomato-like “fruits” happen after the flowers are spent. If I see them I’ll be sure to snap a picture and share it on our social media page. No, you can’t eat those fruits from the potato flowers – they’re usually poisonous.

Pigeon peas, before they were stolen! I suspect tree rats!

Something has been stealing my pigeon peas…I got a good 2 rounds of harvest from my one pigeon pea “tree” and I get flowers on the tree, and haven’t seen any peas since. I do, however, see pods on the ground…so it’s likely squirrels. They’re robbing me of my pigeon peas and rice dinners…not happy about that. I did plant some more pigeon peas, so When those grow up maybe I can get some harvested before they all get eaten by the tree rats.

One of two remaining cabbages waiting to be harvested.

I still have carrots and a cabbage left from the winter…probably going to pull all of them out here pretty soon and make way for more cowpeas in that bed. I’ve been planting a lot of marigolds to help keep the bad pests away, and it definitely seemed to help my cabbages! Plus that bed is faltering in it’s nitrogen content – some of the plants that do grow are runts, so it’s time to plant beans so that the nitrogen can get fixed in the soil. I’ll probably have to get some Shell’s 3-3-3 organic into that bed to help the beans and cowpeas along a little bit. I try not to use too much fertilizer at all if I can help it through crop rotation, but sometimes you just have to help nature along a little bit!

Moringa tree sprouts – only 3 of 12 sprouted, I hope they make it!!

I also planted a few Moringa seeds that I picked up from a lovely couple at one of our Seed Swaps, but only 3 of the 12 germinated. I’m doing everything I can to hang on to those seedlings, I really want some Moringa trees! It’s a great superfood, and nearly everything on the tree is edible!

Last year about this time I wrote an article about Summer gardening with lots of great tips and advice in it, and it’s still relevant this year, so I wanted to link to it here so you could go back and read it. Please go check it out!

shells feed garden supply tampa florida guide to summer garden
Summer growing article I wrote last year

One of the most asked questions we get at the store is “What should I plant right now?” Normally if you’re in the store we hand you one of our garden guides, which has a handy-dandy planting chart on one side and advice for the gardening chores to do this month on the other, and send you on your way with whatever products you came in for that day. This article from last year goes a little deeper, and even has some other great links inside it. Do check it out when you get a chance.

I could keep writing about my garden – I love it so much – but I will stop there for now. My garden is my place to take out frustration (very satisfying pulling weeds, and hand-tilling the soil), get some sunshine and fresh air, and see beautiful things. All in my own back yard. I’m happiest when I’m out there, hanging out with the dogs, working on a project with my fiance, or just sitting and relaxing on the swing.

Petunia, Ping Pongs, Red Salvia

I hope you’ve made your own beautiful place. If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?

We’re here to help.

Until next time, keep growing!

Marissa

Urban Farms are HOT!

Who knew that Shell’s would be in the forefront of one of the hottest trends right now – Urban Farms?

Well, to be completely honest, we did. We’ve seen this coming for awhile: the return to our roots where we live right now – farming in urban areas and in suburbia.

We’re In It For You

We believe that is one of the main reasons why we’ve been in business for 59 years in Tampa Bay – because we are here for anyone who wants to farm and garden in their back yard, and feed their pets high quality affordable pet foods.

Shell’s has definitely seen a dramatic increase in new gardeners and livestock owners coming to us for supplies, and advice too, during this COVID-19 pandemic. We’re loving the trend! Not just because we get to meet more of our neighbors, but because we truly LOVE gardening, and pets, and chickens, and farms too.

It’s our passion to provide great knowledge, great service and great products to our friends who are creating a new adventure at home for themselves and their families.

History Repeats Itself, In A Positive Way

In the last blog article we talked about Victory Gardens being the “new” old thing that has come back around to serve us. We’re continuing our focus on the efforts of our community to provide for themselves, to discover where their food comes from, and to (at least some what) learn how to live off the land.

There are lots of resources out there for new gardeners and new chicken owners, for example. If you search for information on homesteading, you’ll find a lot of information that way as well.

During this COVID-19 pandemic crisis, there has been a lot of talk about supporting our community. In that light I wanted to point out some great local in-person and online communities that are a wealth of support and information for your homesteading endeavors.

Shell’s Learning Center

Let’s learn together! The Learning Center

We’ve built a learning center on our website that has lots of free information for you. It has links not only to our blog, but other “hidden” pages of our website that have great information for growing gardens. Have a look and see if you find something fun to learn today!

Go To Shell’s Learning Center

Local Community Gardens

LUMOimages Shutterstock

Community Gardens are great for people who don’t have yards or patios to grow food on – they already have raised beds built, you lease the space for a nominal fee and you have instant community help to help you grow your own! Here’s some local ones (closer to our store’s location):

Seminole Heights Community Garden

Abby’s Organic Community Farm

Temple Terrace Community Garden

Sustainable Living Project

Tampa Heights Community Garden (I could not find a recent and working website for them, however they do have a Facebook page you can search for).

Looking for a Community Garden further away from our store but still in the Tampa Bay area? Look on the Coalition for Community Gardens Website, and scroll down to the “Looking for a Community Garden?” section. Click the button and a document will download with community gardens all over Tampa Bay for you to access. https://coalitionofcommunitygardens.weebly.com/

(I don’t know how up-to-date that list is, so you may have to do some google searching or visit the site for more details.

The Coalition for Community Gardens also has a guide for starting your own community garden. That would be a great project for a neighborhood/HOA, a townhome association, a condo association, etc. to undertake together to provide residents with the chance to get their hands dirty and grow food for the betterment of all who live and garden there.

QUESTION: Are you a member of a community garden? Which one? Tell us more about it in the comments below.

Facebook Groups for Gardening/Homesteading

Facebook has some awesome local groups or communities within Facebook to ask questions and search for already-discussed resources – make sure you use the group search functions and look through their written resources!

Photo by  Lindsey Hutslar  on  Scopio

Shell’s Garden Community – this is a private group run by me. People post pics, ask questions, and we have a good time. Also has announcements about the store in there – activities, sales, etc. Please feel free to join us! We’re in the 200-300 member range and we have good participation from our members.

Tampa Gardening Swap – a HUGE group (11,000+ members!) of gardeners in Central Florida – a great resource for garden info for Zone 9 and 10. Lots of informational resources there, so make sure you check out their Learning Units AND their Files sections before posting your questions.

Tampa Gardening Unplugged – a slightly smaller group that spawned off of the Tampa Gardening Swap, this group also has great people who answer questions, post pics, and sound off about gardening in our area – triumphs and (usually funny) failures too.

Seminole Heights Backyard Chickens – our neighbors in Seminole Heights have an obsession with chickens – almost as fevered as Ybor City! – and this is where they hang out to share information and get advice. Funny chicken videos, wonderful information about problems that people have had and solutions they found that worked (or didn’t).

Picture date 17/10/2010 from the Daily Telegraph (UK).

Do you have a favorite gardening, chicken, or homesteading Facebook Group? Please share in the comments below and tell everyone about it! I want the community to sound off and tell us that you’re out there.

What other resources do you use to learn about gardening? Let’s pool our resources and share our knowledge! Tell us more below!

At Shell’s we want you to know – we are here for you! We support our community’s return to our farming roots 100%, and will continue to do so far into the future. Thank you Tampa Bay for your support and continued business throughout the years, and especially in this time of hardship for everyone in our community.

We’re so grateful for you, Tampa Bay!

Until next time, Keep Growing!

Marissa

Victory Gardens Keep Families Fed!

Victory Gardens Keep Families Fed! That’s something that might have been heard during the World Wars of the earlier part of the 1900s. But I’m here, bringing it back – because Victory Gardens are as relevant today as they ever were.

We are in a time of fear and uncertainty, to be sure. And the mainstream media is not helping…they’re making more money than ever preying on your fears and insecurities while raking in advertising dollars and paying out BIG bonuses to Execs…oh, wait, that soapbox is for another day. I digress.

This COVID-19 pandemic burst our “first world” security bubble and caused us all to re-evaluate what is truly necessary in our lives, and really look at what we often take for granted: the availability of food.

Thousands of pounds of squash and zucchini harvested, and then wasted. Image from Politico, click to read story

We hear in the news that farmers are dumping thousands of pounds and gallons of food in the fields because it’s going to waste from the decrease in business of restaurant purchases and more. It surprised even me to learn that dairy farmers (which my family owned a dairy, back in the day) are dumping milk by the truckload, but when I go to the store the milk shelves are empty.

It’s time to take a good look at our food distribution, and what we, as individuals, can do to make it easier for ourselves when a crisis happens. Many areas do not benefit from access to fresh fruits and vegetables at all those areas are called “food deserts” and they are a real problem in the urban areas of the US and it was happening WAY before this pandemic.

One thing I can tell you, living in a hurricane-afflicted state, is that being prepared is everything. And we CAN prepare for what amounts to an agricultural collapse – and a collapse of the food system in general – by being PROACTIVE and growing our own. Providing for our families and putting food on the table in a physical way.

Fresh veggies ready to eat. Photo by  Luana Ungaro Corujeira  on  Scopio

Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about Victory Gardens, the 2.0 version. I’m talking about fresh greens that you snip from your back yard and bring in to wash up for dinner. I’m talking about picking turnips and onions and cabbage and making soup for dinner. Fresh tomatoes, lettuce, radish, and bell peppers for a salad.

Red Beets fresh from the garden. Photo by  Linus Strandholm  on  Scopio

It’s not a fantasy. It can be yours, with a little extra and consistent effort.

You don’t even need a yard – there’s this cool thing called the EarthBOX! That’s a story for another day (or for a class! Stay tuned for that announcement soon!). I’ll show you a picture:

shells feed garden supply tampa florida earthbox garden spring 2019 gardening plan planning
Earthbox garden – so easy. Check out our store and search for Earthbox! shellsfeed.com/shop

Now, I don’t consider myself a “prepper”, like you see on these “reality TV” shows. I think I’m just pragmatic. And I remember how my Dad survived on what he grew and how he bartered fresh veggies for meat, and went fishing and sold fishing worms to feed himself.

I want to know that I can survive on what I can produce myself. And I can. Can you? If not, well, right now we’re all stuck at home with power and internet…so why not learn more about gardening? Or maybe you want to raise chickens? Learn about that! So much better than watching the news.

Photo by  Aquila Farrell  on  Scopio

At Shell’s we’ve always advocated for knowledge of how to grow food – whether it be vegetable or animal – and we’re always up for helping people learn.

  • Check out our Learning Center.
  • We have classes and events specifically for the purpose of education; check out our Calendar of Events (which will be pretty empty until this pandemic has passed! But if you’re reading this AFTER Coronavirus is “over” then you can definitely use this link).
  • We also have a private Facebook group where people can ask questions about gardening (and even the occasional chicken question!).
  • We scan the local groups answering questions and pointing out useful products that we carry – hopefully unobtrusively, and always in the name of education.

This willingness to share in the knowledge library that is contained in the minds of our senior staff is why I personally think we will be celebrating our 60th year next year. Our sense of obligation to foster a community of gardeners and urban farmers is one of our greatest strengths as an organization.

#TampaStrong

Additionally, I believe that one of Tampa’s greatest assets is that when times get rough – we pull together as a giant city-wide team and help each other. #TampaStrong.

So…have I planted the seed of curiosity for anyone considering growing your own food? Do you have questions about Victory Gardens? Contact us today – leave a comment here, or join our private Facebook Group – Shell’s Garden Community – and let’s chat.

Victory Garden propaganda poster for health and wellness during the World War Era.

I look forward to sharing knowledge…and our community of gardeners has lots to share too!

Keep growing,

Marissa

Staying Home? Simple Fun Gardening Projects To Do Now

The world is a different place today than it was about a month ago.

We are encouraged to stay home and self-isolate. Kids are not in school. Parents may not be working. Having everyone home 24/7 can be really stressful!

One way to cope is to have fun projects to do. I’ve got some good ones to share with you that are cheap, easy, and many of you already have these things on hand.

Sparkling Garden Jars

Image from the Empress of Dirt (link below). She uses lids in her version to secure these to a railing or post – in my version you don’t need the lids necessarily, as the stakes are inserted inside the jar and not secured – it allows movement and allows you to easily change your mind on arranging them.

You can add some visual interest to your garden with Sparkling Garden Jars! Many crafty people already have this stuff lying around…if not, you can easily get them at a Dollar store or craft store. (Can’t go out? Use a service like Postmates to run and get it for you, or order online and have it shipped.)

You’ll need:

  • A Glass jar, or a glass – make sure they’re not anything you mind altering permanently – I highly recommend having several glasses, jars, etc to make a display.
  • Glass floral filler stones in whatever colors you like – they have a rounded top and a flat bottom, they’re often called Glass Gems and come in LOTS of different colors.
  • Adhesive: examples: E6000, Gorilla Glue, or a Hot Glue Gun with extra strong or jeweler’s glue, or clear caulk like you would use for windows – anything that will adhere to glass and dry clear
  • Wooden stake(s), or sturdy stick(s) of different heights (suggestion)
  • OPTIONAL: Other fun see-through small items like beads that won’t melt with a hot glue gun, or shiny plastic jewels if you’re using cold glue (like the “bedazzle” jewels).
Glass gems

Instructions:

Clean your glass/jar out, and remove any oils that might be on the outside.

On a protected surface, turn your glass/jar upside down.

Plan out a pattern for your glass gems and/or other decorations on a flat surface to make it easier to transfer onto the glass/jar. You can use a soft sewing tape measure to measure the circumference and height of the glass/jar so that you know how big your design can be.

Glass Gem Pattern Example:

This is an example pattern you can adapt to your glass/jar. Of course it won’t be this big!

Prepare your chosen adhesive.

Starting at the lip of the glass (which is at the bottom right now because the glass/jar is upside down), use glue to adhere the decorations onto the glass one at a time.  ***If you want to use the lid of the jar later to mount the jar somewhere do NOT glue anything to the jar’s lid threads.*** I recommend covering the lip/bottom first and then continue up the sides, covering the bottom of the glass/jar (which is the “top” now) last.

Image from the Empress of Dirt’s project.

While that sets, you can take your stake(s) or stick(s) and find a place in the garden to insert it/them into the ground. You’ll want the top of the stick to be above the other plants you’re growing in that area so the jar will be visible.

When your glass/jar is dry, go to the garden and place it onto the stick so that the stick is inside the glass/jar.  The jars might move around, and that’s ok, they won’t fall off the stick because of their weight.

You can make multiples of these jars, with different shaped glasses/jars, different colors and patterns, and mounted at different heights, for maximum effect when they are clustered together. I find that odd numbers work best in groups like this.

When the sun hits the decorations, they will shine bright!

Another Glass Gem Pattern Example:

Example of a glass gem pattern that you can adapt to your glass/jar.

Additional idea: You can use pennies instead of glass pebbles. Shine up the pennies using either silverware polish OR use tomato paste and let the pennies soak in it for about a half hour or so. Use a toothbrush to scrub them clean and the patina color of older pennies should come right off and be shiny copper again! (acid from the tomatoes removes the patina).

Additional idea: You can use these as lights! The project from The Empress of Dirt shows you how (link at the end of this section). You’ll have to use jars with lids and get some solar tealights that fit inside the jars. Decorate as above. Then mount the lid to a fencepost or other structure you choose upside down (the screw lid threads are facing upward). Put the solar tealight onto the lid. Place the jar threads into the lid and twist to close the jar. Great for lighting pathways and fencelines!

Additional idea: Use leftover glass gems and spread them in a shallow dish, like a terra cotta plant drip catcher. Fill the dish with water so that the tops of the stones are NOT underwater. Set this dish out on a flat surface near your flowers. This allows bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to land, rest and take a drink. Make sure you clean and refill daily.

Pollinator Watering Station

Please note: This project was inspired by The Empress of Dirt, she has wonderful projects: https://empressofdirt.net/gardentreasurejars/ . I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures to show you of my version – this project was something I helped someone else do when I was much younger and they are no longer around!

Super Easy Bird Feeder

Cute photo from momendeavors.com

You’ll need:

  • Clean and empty tin can(s), label removed
  • Wood dowels or sticks, about 8-12″ long
  • Paint and brushes – acrylic is ok
  • Modge Podge Outdoor (optional)
  • Ribbon or Twine
  • Hot Glue Gun and glue.
  • Bird seed
  • Peanut butter (optional)

Make sure your tin can is clean and dry.

Using your paint and brushes, paint the outside of your tin can with whatever kind of design (or just a single color) that you want. Let it dry.

Painting your tin can.

Paint a coat of Modge Podge Outdoor over the paint, let it dry. This step is optional, it allows the paint to last longer against the elements. You can choose to not do this step, and instead, re-paint your tin cans more frequently, changing up the look for the seasons, etc. How cute would that be?

Hot glue your dowel or stick to the inside of your tin can so that the stick is adhered along the inside of the can from the bottom to the opening. This is going to be your feathered friends’ perch when the can is hanging from the ribbon/twine.

Adhering your stick to the tin can – I prefer dowels or sticks but popsicle sticks can work too if that’s what you’ve got! Just make sure that the bird has enough perch to perch on!

Next, take a 3-4 foot length of ribbon or twine and fold it at the halfway point to make the loop shown in square 1 below. Make a larkshead knot around the can using the diagram below.

Pretend that yellow ring is the whole circumference of the tin can.

I recommend a Larkshead knot for stability and easy removal.

Next, fill the can about halfway with a seed mix (or a ball of seed mixed with peanut butter if you wish).

We carry Shell’s Wild Bird Mix in a 50 lb bag for about $20. It’s a bargain and VERY high quality. We have LOTS of other bird seed too. Let us show you!

When you pick up your can by the ribbon or twine, your tin can should rest sideways and level with your stick/dowel pointing straight out at the bottom of the can, parallel with flat ground.  If the can tilts upward, rain and other things will get caught in the can and accumulate; if it tilts downward, the birds will be unsteady and the seed will fall out.

Here’s an example of a bird feeder hanging level.

If your can can’t stabilize, consider using a piece of ribbon or twine at the opening and near the base of the can tied in larkshead knots around the can to stabilize it. And of course if larkshead is not working for you, use a standard overhead knot.

Once your ribbon/twine is in the position where the can hangs level, use a little glue to hold it in place so it doesn’t shift with the wind or with bird landings/take offs.

This image is from lifelovelarson.blogspot.com

Using the two free ends of the twine or ribbon, you can tie them together with an overhead knot and then hang the can with the seeds from a tree branch, shrub, a shepherd’s hook, or a plant hook. It’s extra special if you can place it near a window where you can watch the birds find it and eat.

This example is from thehappierhomemaker.com

Another idea – you can make a feeder stack! Just hot glue the tin cans together top side to bottom side so that your sticks are at the bottom of each can when the cans are on their sides. Sweet, right?

Easy “Hydroponic” Planter

Recycling plastic bottles to grow plants? Yes please!

Do you like to recycle? How about upcycle? This project is all about it! While technically not a hydroponic setup, it is indeed a sub-irrigated system, which means it’s watered from the bottom using the wicking properties of cotton and soil.

You’ll Need:

  • Plastic 2 liter bottle with cap, label removed
  • Scissors or box cutter
  • Cotton twine that is the same length as the bottle is tall.
  • Potting Mix
  • Water
  • Starter Plants or seeds
  • Drill with small bit (about the width of your cotton twine)

First, mark the 2 liter bottle about half- way up from the bottom around the outside.  Cut around the bottle at that marking to separate the top from the bottom using the scissors or boxcutter.

Cutting your bottle in half.

Clean the bottle inside and out.

Take the cap off of the top of the bottle. Place it on a surface where drilling won’t harm anything, like a woodworking table, or clamp it in a vice. Using the drill, drill a hole in the center of the cap.

String your cotton twine through the cap. Screw the cap back onto the bottle so that part of the twine is “inside” and the other part is “outside” and set aside.

Illustration of how this project will come together. Notice the wicking string threaded through the cap and connecting the water to the soil.

Take the bottom of your 2 liter bottle and fill it with water about a quarter full. Set it on a protected surface.

Flip the top third of the two liter bottle so that the cap is facing downward and the opening upward. Place it into the bottom piece so that the string dangles in the water, and the cap is closest to the water. This makes a reservoir for planting a plant at the top of your Hydroponic setup.  Adjust your string so that the string has an inch or two touching the bottom of the water reservoir and has plenty of string still above the cap.

Next, use potting mix to fill up the portion above the cap, making sure that the string is layered in the dirt. I like to circle the string around where I’m going to plant my plant, maybe an inch or so in from the outer wall of the bottle. Push your soil down to firm it, but not too hard, just enough to make sure the dirt will wick water up from the bottom.

You can make as many of these as you need for your herb garden! No tilling needed!

Once you have your potting mix in, make room for your starter plant or seeds in the center, and plant them in the that bottle top inside the string circle you made. If you need more dirt, add it now, until the dirt level is about an inch or so from the top opening.

Add a tiny bit of water to get your starter plant or seeds started (you don’t need much!). Any amount of water needed after that will be drawn up through the cotton twine “wick” from the water reservoir.

To refill the reservoir, lift out the portion of the bottle with the soil in it, and refill the bottom reservoir. This makes it easy to clean out the water reservoir as well, as occasionally it will need it.

Just gorgeous!

This setup will maximize your room to grow herbs while making sure they get the right amount of water. You can’t over or under water…just keep the reservoir full and you’re good to go! You can make one of these for each herb you want to grow.

You can also use smaller plastic bottle to start seeds in using this same method (like the 16 ounce soda or water bottles). What a great way to recycle and reuse!!

Seed starting in a sub-irrigation system, image from IThinkWeCouldBeFriends.com

And don’t think you can’t expand to other types of plants too using soda or water bottles! Here’s some cute succulent pots (shown below) that you can make with smaller bottles – for succulents make sure you put some pebbles in the bottom and use cactus soil mix! OK, these don’t have the sub-irrigation setup, but they’re a great way to recycle plastic!

How cute are these, right? Images from onelittleproject.com

Another idea for recycling bottles – a vertical garden!

Self-contained! Just be careful that you don’t overwater – there’s no drainage here—or if it’s outside, you can put a small hole for drainage in the bottom.

Here’s another use for a plastic bottle – a hanging garden! Great for a window display, or to string together a bunch along a fenceline.

Vertical gardening with bottles.

I hope I’ve given you some fun ideas for the garden using things you probably already have lying around the house.

Stay safe, don’t panic, we’ll make it through this as a community as long as we help each other.

Keep growing,

Marissa

P.S. Do you want some more fun projects? Why not look at my article about DIY Garden Markers? Has lots of great ways to label those containers and garden beds so you know what you planted. Take a look:

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