Heirlooms, Hybrids, & GMOs – What’s the difference?

One of the most common questions we get at the store has to do with whether or not what they are planting is a GMO product.

I’m here to answer this question and clarify what all these terms mean so that you understand in a quick, clear, and easily repeatable way!

Let’s take the confusion out of seeds, shall we?

Heirlooms

The beautiful colors and flavors of heirloom tomatoes.

Heirloom seeds are seeds that are harvested from plants that are the product of seeds that are collected in succession over time – 50 or more years, actually. They are naturally pollinated (wind, bees, butterflies, etc.), and the seeds are passed from generation to generation, usually in families or communities.

Heirloom seeds gathered from the heirloom plants will create the same exact plant in the next generation.

Hybrids

Hybrid seeds are the result of taking one species (let’s say, a tomato), and pollinating it with the pollen of another species of the same plant family. If the pollination is successful, the resulting seeds will grow a plant that has some of the characteristics of both the parent plants.

The seeds from that hybrid plant (in other words, the 2nd generation), will generate a variety of plants that have the characteristics of the parent and the grandparent plants. While the first generation hybrid will have the same characteristics all the time (these are the hybrid seeds that you buy) the second generation of the hybrids will be almost random (these would be seeds that you collect from the hybrid plants you grew initially).

GMOs

Genetically-modified Organisms, or GMOs, are LAB CREATED. They are the products of DNA Splicing and techniques of stabilizing DNA so that it is stable through multiple generations. They are patented by the creators and are NOT available for human purchase as seeds.

Since GMOs are patented, no statements about their reproduction in the second generation of seed from the initial GMO can be made – every one is different.

Someone took the time to make this chart, so I shared it (with credit) below. I disagree with some of what is said here (see caption) but the definitions and characteristics are spot-on.

This image is not produced by me, credits appear at the bottom. I disagree with “not proven safe for consumption” statement in the lower right corner in that it is a twisting of words – GMOs have not been proven UNsafe for consumption.
As someone with a scientific background and research experience, until definitive testing is complete I reserve judgement, and choose to avoid GMOs when I can.

Why Should I Care?

Heirloom seeds are being purchased by big agricultural companies to eliminate them from the open market and barter trade. Their motive is profiting from these varieties that have been cultivated for generations by families and communities and dominating the seed market globally. By owning the seed varieties they dictate what is available for people to grow for themselves, and ultimately control what foods are eaten throughout the world.

Hybrid seeds have been cross pollinated and developed by lots of Mendelian research techniques to deliver great disease resistance, fruit types, colors, flavors, and other valuable and desirable characteristics depending on the species. Are hybrids unnatural? No. What they are is an example of expedited evolution – we have forced plants to cross-pollinate where normally they would never meet in a natural environment. It could be argued that even all heirloom seeds were created this way initially.

GMO seeds are usually modified to make the plants resistant to insects, disease, or to broad-spectrum herbicides like Glyphosate which are sprayed on fields to keep competing plants/weeds from growing in between the rows of crops. It is largely limited to large-scale crops such as corn, wheat, sorghum, soy, canola, etc. Genetically-modifying these species has helped raise production of food from limited land areas, but there are questions as to the safety of eating the products of this modified food source.

Currently no studies have conclusively found evidence that people are being harmed by the presence of GMO products in their food, only from the increased presence of processed grains in the foods that are available in the marketplace causing issues linked to overindulgence like obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases. But there are many cellular processes that are as-yet not understood, and we don’t know all of the effects of the interruption of the genetic code of the cells in our agricultural food has or will cause. I really encourage you to do your own research on the topic and make the decision for yourself. Here is a place to start.

I wrote another article on this topic early on in this blog. Here is the link.

I hope you found this quick reference article informative. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Sincerely,

Marissa

Your Resource for Florida Fall Gardening

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.

to Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply’s Blog!
Oh and to the author too… 🙂

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?


Speaking of great information, have you seen our 5 days of videos recorded live on Facebook earlier this month? More below:

Did you participate in our Create a Garden Plan 5-Day Challenge earlier this month? If not, some good advice is in there from Marissa about Creating a Garden Plan – and why you would want to! Join the Shell’s Garden Community on Facebook to see the videos right now!

There’s a few zingers of advice in those videos…


Now, on with this week’s blog:

Here’s a few articles to look back on right now to help you with your Florida Fall Garden.

1. Tips for a Great Garden Plan Parts 1 & 2

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!

shells feed garden supply tampa florida gardening plan spring 2019 planning

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.

shells feed garden supply tampa florida gardening planning plan journal spring 2019

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.

2. Preparing for Your Florida Fall Garden

This article covers quite a lot – great advice for anyone just starting out that doesn’t have their seasonal gardening routine established yet.

It’s also a wonderful reference for your planting timing in Florida and how much it differs from places up north.

You see, much of the information you read on the internet about gardening is geared towards climates that actually have weather-based seasons.

In Florida, we just have variations of HOT depending on what month it is. This allows us to grow all year round.

So have a look at this article to prepare for your Florida Fall Garden adventures.

3. Container Prep for Fall Planting (an Infographic)

You might be sensing a theme here.

Preparation for gardening is really important, & if you’re a container gardener, there’s a few extra prep steps to take when using containers you’ve used previously.

This infographic gives you tips for preparing your containers for planting – it was written in Fall but it’s great for container preparation for any season.

4. Right Now In The Garden: Planting for Florida’s Fall Growing Season

Oh this was a fun one!

I put together a list of great veggies to grow in your Fall Garden. THIS is the answer to one of our TOP 3 questions asked by our customers on a daily basis!

It contains a pretty image list of plants to grow in Fall. How cool is that? Take a look.

5. Back-to-School Fall Project: Simple Container Planting

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.

The main message for this Simple Container Planting article? YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO PLAY.

So, to wrap it up…

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!

Happy gardening!

Marissa

Top 3 To-Dos for Florida Fall Garden TA-DAAA!s

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.

You might not be cut out for gardening if…you’re afraid of plants.

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.

Herbs in a pot.

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.

Veggies mixed with flowers in the front yard can be beautiful!

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.

Come Create a Garden Plan with me!

I’d like to invite you to the Shell’s Garden Community Facebook Group right now for the Create a Garden Plan 5-Day Challenge event which starts on Monday, July 29 (that’s NEXT WEEK!).

This was my garden plan for this past Spring!

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.

So that’s 5 BIG TIPS for Creating a Garden Plan, all for you, all for free, when you join Shell’s Garden Community Facebook Group!

I’ll be making my garden plan too, so we’ll be doing the challenge together! Won’t that be fun?

OMG I’m so excited!!!

Now that you’ve joined the Shell’s Garden Community Facebook Group, we’re going to move on to the final tip!

#3: Keep a Garden Journal

Your Garden Journal keeps your Garden Secrets…

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.

An example of a garden journal

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!

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. I can’t wait to start the 5-Day Create A Garden Plan Challenge with you!!

3 Harvest Fresh Recipes You Need in Your Life Right Now

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.

Split green tomato

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

There is so many delicious things that Fried Green Tomatoes can be used to make…

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!

Ingredients:

  • 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
  • Vegetable Oil

Instructions:

Slice your tomatoes as described above, and place on a plate. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and set aside.

Sliced Green Tomatoes, ready for their salt & pepper!

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.

Fried Green Tomatoes in a cast iron skillet.

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!

Roasted Jalapenos

Roasted jalapenos

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.

Ingredients:

  • Green and/or red jalapenos
  • Olive Oil
  • 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

Instructions:

Heat grill/oven.

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).

This foil pack is much more neatly folded than mine!

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.

Serving suggestions:

  • 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!

Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions:

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

Lemons and mint are meant to be together!

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!

Ingredients:

  • 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
  • Ice
  • A large pitcher
  • A muddler (or wood spoon)
  • A strainer
  • A citrus reamer, if you have one, otherwise a fork and some elbow grease

Instructions:

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.

Simple syrup is a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. Easy!

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.

Examples of muddlers. You don’t have to get fancy, a wooden spoon works too.

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!

Mint Sprigs – beautiful garnish, tasty ingredient.

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.

Great for a hot summer’s day!

Want some other refreshing drink ideas? Check out this article.

I hope you enjoyed these fun recipes using veggies and mint from the garden. Let me know if you have your own recipes or tweaks to the ones presented here in the comments below. Enjoy!

Sincerely,

Marissa

5 Things You Need To Know About 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.

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.

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

Things to Know #1: The Heat Index

Sweat – our body’s own Air Conditioning System

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.

How does this affect humans? Well, a high Heat Index completely blows out our body’s 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Anytime you are outside, drink a LOT of cool water while you work. Avoid sugary drinks, even the popular flavored electrolyte drinks.
  5. Cooling towels or a fan in your work area are a great idea if you’re able to work in one place.
  6. Have healthy food to snack on before or during your work. Your body needs energy to sweat and work, and not having energy can make you succumb to heat sickness sooner.
  7. Hydrating foods to eat include (but are not limited to): watermelon and other melon, grapes, pineapple, cucumbers, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, lemon water.
  8. 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). Sit and rest. Stretch. Breathe deeply.
Outdoor showers are a quick way to cool off!

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 & refreshments!

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

14 Garden Edibles that Beat the Florida Summer Heat

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)

Southern Cow Pea pod with 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.

Everglades Tomatoes

Florida Everglades Tomato – not a native – but Naturalized!

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.

Jerusalem Artichoke

The flowers and tubers of the Jerusalem Artichoke, or Sunchoke.

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

Jicama is a wonderful way to get fiber and Vitamin C!

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.

Katuk

Katuk, growing commercially in this picture.

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

Beautiful Malabar Spinach

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

Moringa – the Miracle Tree

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?

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums growing along a bed border – beautiful!

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.

Okra

Okra stands tall against the heat – it takes all the sun and LOVES IT.

We talked about okra previously as being a superstar in the Summer garden in my article about Summer gardening from about a month ago. The flowers of okra are pale yellow with a red center on most varieties, really quite spectacular.

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.

Peanuts

Peanuts are a flowering legume that grow their edible parts underground!

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!

Peppers

Beautiful Bolivian Rainbow Peppers are edible and ornamental!

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

Purslane grows wild in Florida – do you see it in your yard?

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

Sweet potato vines have sweet little purple flowers – bees love them!

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!

Yard-Long Beans

Holy moly, those are some LONG beans! And they’re tasty, too!

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.

Mint

Mint should probably be kept in pots – it will take over the yard! I think that’s ok, but…

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!

See you next time,

Marissa

A Northern Gardener’s Guide to Florida Gardening

A common concept in gardening is “right plant, right place, right time.” All gardeners know that certain plants have certain seasons where they will thrive and produce their fruits or flowers or sought-after foliage. And if you don’t, well, now you do.

Know where it should go before you plant…and if it’s the right time to plant it!

As a gardening supply store, the number one problem we see gardeners have in Florida is not planting the right plants at the right time of year. That usually results in crop failure, and frustrated gardeners. These are people who were able to grow lush, wonderful gardens where they came from, and have nothing now but brown, chewed up lumps of leafy fungus-rotted stems down here.

And believe me…we know your frustration. I was born and raised here. We do, and have done, crazy work to keep pests and disease away from our prized plants. And we still sometimes end up with a brown shriveled up mess. As it says in my bio, the late great J.C. Raulston of the NC State Arboretum said often, “if you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener.” I just remember that when I have the heartache of a dead plant and learn as much as I can from the experience.

Summer Heat Damage can look like this on a tomato.

So, here’s my best general advice for those of you who are “transplanted” from other places in our giant country…and anyone in Florida just getting into gardening too.

Tip #1 – Know where you are, and the conditions of YOUR growing space.

Know your USDA Agricultural Zone, and make sure what you’re planting will grow in that zone. Have a question about this? Check out my garden planning article from earlier this year, tip #2.

USDA Zone Maps were updated in 2012 – make sure you have the latest!

The thing about gardening in Florida, as compared to gardening North of here, is that the growing seasons are SO different. We also have 4 growing seasons (unless the heat is not for you, then we have 3).

Up north, you have actual seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.

We have Hot, Scalding Hot, Under-The-Broiler Hot, and Slightly Less Hot.

And the national-chain store advertising that happens in Florida doesn’t help gardeners understand our growing seasons at all, because is still tuned in to more northern climate growing schedules…so by the time their “Spring” advertising hits TV, Radio, and the internet…well…Florida’s Spring season is already nearly over and we’re moving into the heat of Summer.

I mean, sure, there’s still stuff you can plant right now (see my last article for some guidance on that), but it’s not the same stuff you would plant right now in, say, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan or Canada. And that’s how people waste a LOT of money, and time. Plants that don’t grow well right now in our climate are still available to buy in the big box stores. Sure, they’ve got a “guarantee”, but honestly, wouldn’t you rather just succeed out of the gate than trying to pulling a dead plant out of the ground to take back for a refund when it gets fried from a 104-degree day?

Here’s a final point on this first tip – and it’s a real mind-melter. Ready? OK, here goes:

The best time to plant seeds for Spring in Central Florida is in January and seedlings can go in the ground in early February. OK, you can say that’s my opinion for the Tampa area…but so be it. Yeah, there’s a chance of frost, but that’s what our N-Sulate frost-cloth is for. We can even garden in the Winter here…plant in November, harvest in January/February. Mind blown yet? It’s a pretty sweet deal if you like to eat.

Look at all that stuff you can plant in Central Florida in January! AMAZING!

Tip #2: Lean on Local Gardeners for Advice

It pays to ask local gardening folks about local gardening practices before you spend a bunch of money on stuff that doesn’t work where you are. The internet is great for researching, and social media gardening groups are decent places to get “what would you do” type advice (taken with a grain of salt of course). Even our own local extension offices (in our case, UF/IFAS) have some information published that makes me scratch my head in wonder, because what they’re saying doesn’t apply to or work in my area at all.

Local law changes in Florida make front-yard gardens allowable in many places now! YES!

If your neighbor has a gorgeous landscape, talk with them about it. If another neighbor brings you heaps of greens or zucchini or tomatoes (guilty!), ask them how they get such great yields. Ask to see their gardens, or to let you know when they do something to their garden so you can do it to yours too. If they really like you, they’ll pass down their family gardening secrets…the treasured “old ways” that I love finding out about so much (like the ones that my daddy passed to me, before I lost him).

Of course, if you’re having a specific pest or disease issue, you can come ask us here at the store. We’re here to help you get the most out of your garden.

Tip #3: It’s ALL in the PREPARATION

The Scouts code says “BE PREPARED” for good reason.

If you’re prepared, you’ll have more success – a little work now leads to a lot less later!

Garden success is predicated on the prep work you did in the weeks and months BEFORE you planted the seeds. Summertime is a great time to do a lot of prep work for the coming prolific Fall Gardening season. Want a quick read on things you can do in the Summer to prep for Fall Planting? Try this article and see what you think.

Another thing that you can play with is using nitrogen-fixer summer crops like Peanuts (not the ornamentals, the actual ones that you eat), and Cow peas/Black-eyed Peas, to plant in your garden beds over the summer. You can harvest the crops, and then till the plants under a couple of weeks before planting for Fall. Their roots/stems/leaves make a wonderful soil-builder, and of course the peas and peanuts are tasty to eat. I plan on trying cowpeas in my raised beds this summer (it’s on the list!). I’ll let you know how it goes, I plan to plant next week!

If you’re going to let your garden ground go fallow over the summer (“fallow” = not planting in it), instead of letting random weeds take over, I would suggest an easy cover grain like sorghum or Sunn hemp or buckwheat, or toss a bunch of marigold seeds out there and let them grow wild. Marigolds make great natural insecticide, battling root knot nematodes and other soil-borne pests – so having a bunch of those growing in your beds all year round is never a bad thing. When they die (they are annuals, they can die off easily), till their remains into the soil so they can continue to work for you!

Cowpeas in the summer garden – tasty peas AND added nitrogen to the soil.

Well, there’s my gardening $0.02 for transplants to our beautiful Sunshine State. I hope you, and maybe even new gardeners, found this useful!

What are your Summer garden tricks? Let me know in the comments below. Happy HOT gardening!!

Sincerely,

Marissa

Guide to Your Florida Summer Garden

shells feed garden supply tampa florida guide to 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!!

Peppers and small tomatoes are a summer treat!

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).

Eggplants can do well in the heat.

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
  • Eggplants
  • 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.
Collards loving the sun.

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.

Sunflowers dazzle in the heat of day.

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.
Okra is some of the most beautiful, and prolific, plants in the summer veggie garden.

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.

Watering is key to a healthy summer garden.

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.

Some larger tomatoes take the heat and run with it! Just make sure they’ve got water!

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.

Simple example of a garden journal.

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.

See you soon!

Marissa

5 Fun Facts About Chickens

shells feed garden supply chickens chicken keeping fresh eggs daily poultry feathered friends pets cute fluffy
Chickens love to play in the back yard.

Raising chickens is one of the main ways that we produce food for ourselves. But chickens don’t just have to be a means to nourish our bodies. The fact is that chickens are intelligent, very social birds with individual distinct personalities. They act just as any other pet would – you can train them to come when you call, they like to snuggle, they are silly and like to play. Chickens are also a great way to teach children how to care for animals and how to grow their own food, so they can learn where their food comes from and gain a deeper sense of connection to the world around them.

In honor of chickens everywhere, in celebration of National Pet Month (#NationalPetMonth), and to remind our readers of our upcoming Chickens for Beginners class on Saturday May 11, 10 am, at the store, I wanted to write a fun article about our feathered friends.

Fun Fact #1: Chickens are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Yep, you read that right. It’s not iguanas, or anole lizards…it’s chickens. Modern-day birds evolved from dinosaurs, as one of the cross-over species, the flying reptile with feathers called the Archaeopteryx, shows us. Additionally, some new fossils out of China show definite dinosaur skeletons with feather plumage!

Fossil of the Archaeopteryx. Do you see the feathers, the tail, and the shape of the head? Looks like a lizard-bird to me!

There are LOTS of articles about the comparison of some collagen protein found preserved inside the femur of a 68-million-year-old T. Rex skeleton in Montana and several modern animal species which asserts that Chickens and Ostriches are the closest living relatives to this class of dinosaur. There is also some similarities with Alligator proteins (not surprising…as they are another class of dinosaur themselves!). Read that article here if you like.

Want to know more? Here’s an interesting article from Scientific American about the evolution of Therapods (the group of dinosaurs that include the Velociraptor and T. Rex) into birds which tells you more, if you’re interested. Of course, science is always making new discoveries, and there’s still a LOT of gaps to fill before we have the full story. Isn’t science fascinating?

Fun Fact #2: There are smaller versions of most chicken breeds called Bantams.

You may have heard the word “Bantam chicken” tossed about in your research of chickens (because, who doesn’t like to read about them?). If you were a little confused on what that means, I can help you out.

A Bantam Chicken simply means “smaller chicken.” Bantam varieties have one of two origins. A True Bantam is a naturally smaller chicken. Most of the major breeds have a Bantam counterpart that is a fraction of the size. Then there are Miniature chickens which are bred to be smaller in size and weight, but have larger heads, tails, and eggs than true bantams. These Miniatures are often called Bantams as well. It’s generally accepted that either kind of bird is a Bantam.

Standard size hen (right) and a Bantam size hen (left).

Bantam breeds are fantastic if you want to have chickens, but don’t have a lot of space. Yes, they lay smaller eggs than standard chickens, but they also don’t eat as much or take up as much room! They are definitely a good choice for people with small city properties.

Fun Fact #3: Chickens See & Dream in Full Color, & are Highly Attracted to Red

Chickens have amazing eyesight – they see all the colors of the rainbow. Hens especially like the color red, and roosters take advantage of that attraction by sporting bright red combs and wattles for their mating dances, which are called “tidbitting”.

Here’s another visionary tidbit: You may not have known this, but chickens can dream, too. In full color. So the things they see in their world when they are awake, they might possibly see again when they sleep. I like to think that they dream of soaring like a frigate bird! Chickens have a phase of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement), just like we do. That’s when we humans dream too.

Who knew “Enter Sandman” was actually about sleeping chickens? (just kidding…sorta)

If you own chickens, you might observe another phase of their sleep patterns that we don’t share with our fluffy friends, and it’s called USWS, or Unihemispheric Slow Wave Sleep. If you’ve ever heard the term “sleeping with one eye open” – well, chickens can. It’s how they watch for predators while they catch some Zzz’s.

It’s actually one of the traits that has kept many bird species, like chickens, alive and thriving for so long. Did you know that there are 25 BILLION CHICKENS on the planet – nearly 4 times more than humans? They are by far the most prevalent bird in the world.

Fun Fact #4: A Hen Eats About 4 Pounds of Feed to Make 1 Dozen Eggs

This is an approximation, of course, for standard chicken breeds. Bantams eat way less. But it shows the importance of eating the right quantities of food to get the best egg production.

Broody hen sitting on eggs in a nest.

Chickens lay, on average, about one egg every 36-48 hours, except in times of stress, the molting period (when a chicken sheds feathers and makes new ones), or when a chicken goes “broody”.

A broody hen is a chicken dreaming of being a mom, like maternal instinct on overload. She turns the eggs about 300 times per day, and she talks to the eggs too – as they mature the chicks inside the shells chirp back to her (assuming the eggs are fertilized). During this time, a broody hen barely gets up to eat or drink. She’s dedicated!

Most egg farmers have to discourage the broody behavior to get the hens back to laying eggs, assuming there is no fertilized eggs for her to care for. But, if you have a rooster and want to hatch some chicks, a broody hen can be a great thing! Just put other fertilized eggs under her and she’ll take care of them too! Then the rest of your flock can continue to make breakfast for you while one works to hatch babies! By the way, they take about 21 days to hatch.

Fun Fact #5: The Color Eggs a Hen Lays Can Be Determined by the Color of the Earlobes

Hens are pretty predictable in their egg color if you know one simple trick:

Red Earlobes on a hen means she lays brown eggs. Some examples of brown-egg layers are: Rhode Island Red and Plymouth Rock

White Earlobes on a hen means she lays white and/or cream colored eggs. Some examples of white egg layers are: Leghorns and Polish. Cream colored egg layers are: Wyandottes and Silkies.

Blue/Green Earlobes on a hen means she is most likely an Easter egger and can lay Blue, Green, Rose, Lavender, or any of the other colors of eggs. Easter egg-colored egg layers are: Ameracaunas and Araucanas (both lay blue eggs), also mixed breeds called “Easter Eggers” who lay the other colors of eggs. The different colors are made when whites, browns, and blues are mixed together in the “shelling” process – this is a product of the mixed breeding.

This earlobe “rule” is a guideline only, so of course there are exceptions. But generally the above statements are true.

There are so many more fun facts about chickens. Why don’t you come learn how to keep and raise chickens with us? Our Chickens for Beginners class is Saturday, May 11, at 10 am. It will be about 90 minutes long, and you can have all your questions answered by me and our co-presenter, Kenny Coogan of Critter Companions!! Here’s the Facebook Event page for Chickens for Beginners workshop some more information.

It’s going to be an awesome class, I hope you’ll come join us!

Do you have your own fun facts about chickens? Add them in the comments below! Oh, and before I forget, you can always see what we have in stock in the Chicken Report that I post each Saturday.

See you again soon! Until then…

Marissa

3 Best Reasons to Compost

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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 with food scraps in worm bin vermicomposting
There is a wide variety of
items that can be composted,
and a few that should not.

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.

shells feed garden supply mr shells compost pile greens pitchfork turning pallet upcycle chicken wire
One of Mr. Shell’s Compost piles, with the pitchfork for aerating.

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.

In addition, studies are showing now that adding synthetic nitrogen sources is causing further soil depletion by destroying carbon stored in the soil.

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

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!

Did you put on your superhero cape? I just did.

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Are you a compost superhero?

Are you ready to learn how EASY it is to compost in your own yard or patio? Attend our Composting 101 class on Saturday, April 27, from 10-11:30am. Our instructor is Amanda Streets from the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance, and she is very excited to come speak in Hillsborough, as the Hillsborough Community Composting Alliance has just begun its work to bring composting initiatives to Tampa and the surrounding areas.

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!!

Hope to see you there…until then…happy gardening!

Sincerely,

Marissa

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