Holiday Recipes Shared By You

As we prepare for Thanksgiving (just 2 weeks away from today!) I wanted to share some yummy treats from our family, and also some of the ones you shared with us from last Sunday’s (11/10) Sunday Survey Facebook post where I asked for your favorite Thanksgiving recipes!

I love this season – we get some cool mornings, I might get to wear a sweater once in awhile, maybe even boots…and I love food. I love to cook for entertaining and trying new things too, like the easy and delicious appetizer I made last night for a girls night get together (don’t worry, I shared it with you below!).

So, here’s some great recipes from our community, reprinted here from that Facebook post, and a couple of my own, too.

SAVORY HERB STUFFING

From our friend and AMAZING Earthbox aficionado Susan Roghair comes this great Stuffing recipe! It’s vegetarian, and looks delicious!

Savory Herb Stuffing. Photo Credit: Susan Roghair

Ingredients:

1 large loaf whole-grain bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 cup red onion, diced
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
1/4 cup fresh sage, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon black crushed pepper
1 1/2 cups of clear vegetable broth

Instructions:

The night before, cube your bread and set it in a large bowl to dry out. You want it to be the texture of day old bread, noticeably dry but not rock hard.
 You can also dehydrate it in a dehydrator if you prefer.

Bread cubes!

Preheat oven to 350F.

Lightly rub oil on a 11 x 7 x 2 glass loaf dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, and add the onions, celery, sage, thyme and rosemary. Cover and cook until tender about 14 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a bowl and add the parsley, black pepper, bread cubes, vegetable broth and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix well.

Transfer stuffing to prepared baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes or until top is crisp and golden.

REAL MASHED POTATOES

Long-time customer Norma Doyle said that her favorite recipe is mashed potatoes – the real ones.

Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes. Photo Credit: SimplyRecipes

The recipe is simple: Yukon Gold Potatoes (skin off or skin kept, whatever you like), cubed, boiled until soft, and mashed with a mix of half cream and half butter until you get the consistency you want.

Yukon Gold Potatoes

I would add to that salt and pepper to taste. You could also add roasted garlic (look at my recipe next!) and have garlic mashed potatoes!

OVEN ROASTED GARLIC

This is one of my favorite flavors – roasted garlic – and this is my recipe for making it. It is so versatile – once the garlic is roasted, it becomes soft like butter. You can spread it on bread with butter to make garlic toast. You can spread it across the top of a perfectly grilled steak, or add it to your mashed potatoes! So good!

Roasted Garlic in the foil pack. Photo Credit: Delish

Ingredients:

Whole Garlic Bulbs
Olive Oil to Drizzle

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 400F. On a cutting board, hold your garlic bulb on it’s side. With a very sharp chef’s knife (not serrated, a flat blade – trust me, less mess that way), cut off the top 1/4 to 1/3 of the bulb at the growing end tips (not the root end). Put those cuttings aside for a moment. Place your bulbs on an aluminum foil sheet clustered in the center, root end down, leaving enough foil to be able to wrap around them and make a pouch. You can also use a baking dish, just extend the baking time by about 5-10 minutes. Pull any pieces of garlic clove tips out of the garlic skins that you cut off earlier and place them in with the bulbs, discarding or composting the garlic “paper” husks.

Drizzle olive oil generously over the bulbs. Wrap up the aluminum foil to make a pouch, and close it (or tightly cover the baking dish with foil). Place foil on a cookie sheet and put in the oven (or just set the baking dish in the oven) for at least 45 minutes, I prefer 50 minutes (remember, add 5-10 minutes for a baking dish). The enclosed pouch with steam heat AND roast the garlic at the same time. When time is up, take out the cookie sheet/dish and allow to cool enough to touch the garlic (you can vent the aluminum foil to help the cooling process).

Next, in a bowl with a lid for storage (because it’s garlic I recommend glass!) take each bulb and squeeze each clove to remove the roasted garlic inside and put it into the bowl. The garlic should be a golden yellow and be very soft. Continue to squeeze out all of the garlic from the bulb husks. Finally from the aluminum foil pouch, empty as much of the leftover oil as you can into the bowl with the garlic. Store the bowl of garlic and oil in the refrigerator and use as needed. Discard or compost the now empty garlic bulb husks.

There are so many uses for this garlic – in other recipes like mashed potatoes, as a spread, as flavoring for your favorite saute dishes, to put in soups…really the possibilities are endless. It is my FAVORITE way to eat garlic. And during this time of year when catching colds is very prominent, garlic can help you stay well – so keep eating it!

CRANBERRY APPLE CRUMBLE

From our customer Carolyn Albertson, here’s a versatile dish that can be breakfast or dessert or a side dish with dinner! Yum!

Cranberry Apple Crumble. Photo Credit: Country Living

Ingredients:

Filling: 3 cups chopped mixed apples
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
Topping: 1 stick butter, softened; plus extra butter to coat the baking dish
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups quick oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Instructions:

Apples, cranberries, sugar – easy!
Photo Credit: Dash of Jazz

Mix filling ingredients and place in buttered 1 1/2 qt casserole dish. Topping: Combine 1 stick softened butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 3/4 tsp salt, 1 1/2 cup quick cook oats, 1/2 cup chopped pecans. Crumble on top of the apple/cranberry mixture. Bake at 350 for an hour or until bubbly.

Carolyn notes: “we love the topping so much, we tend to make a double batch so it is like granola on top.” Also an Editor’s note, you can remove the nuts for nut allergies and such.

BRIE & JAM PUFF PASTRY BITES

My awesome neighbor Kelley (from SimpliAIR A/C) and I made this one last night before we headed off for a get together with friends, and it was a hit! The original recipe called for just Fig Jam, which I used, but I also mixed it up and made some with other ingredients too, such as a piece of fresh apple instead of jam, some I made with Apricot Jam, and some I made with Lemon Curd. Oh holy moly they were SO GOOD! Don’t expect them to last. In fact, you might just plan for doubling this recipe.

Brie & Jam Puff Pastry Bites. Photo Credit: MyRecipes

Ingredients:

1 Frozen Puff Pastry Sheet (17.3oz package) or 1 Crescent Roll Pastry Sheet
Fig, Apricot, or whatever jam you like (feel free to mix it up!)
1 wheel of brie cheese
Flour to coat surface of dough cutting board and top of dough to keep rolling pin from sticking

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400F. On your cutting/dough rolling board, sprinkle some flour. Unroll your puff pastry or crescent roll pastry sheet and place on the board. Flour the top and your rolling pin and roll to a size of 10″ x 10″ square. Cut square into quarters, then cut each of those pieces into quarters again, making sixteen 2.5″ squares.

With a fork, poke holes into the pastry dough squares about 8 times per square, try to evenly space them (don’t get all exact about it, just poke holes all over the squares). Then, in a NONSTICK mini muffin pan, lay each square across an muffin cup, and gently press down the pastry dough into the cup, allowing the corners of the squares to lay up over the edges of the cups. If your pan tends to stick, probably a good idea to spray some nonstick oil onto the pan first, or use butter and flour to coat the cups.

Left: dough pressed into muffin cups (instructions above). Right: First baking of dough AND Brie cheese added before second baking (instructions below). Photo Credit: Whitney Bond

Bake the cups for 8 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and take a spoon or the rounded handle end of silverware or steak knife and push down the center of your pastry cups to make room for the cheese and fruit topping. Then, once you’ve made some space, add a teaspoon of brie cheese and a teaspoon of whichever toppings you like (jam, fresh fruit, fruit curd, etc). and bake for another 6-8 minutes (in my oven it was about 7 minutes, it would have been OK at 6). You want the cheese to be bubbly and the points on the cups to be dark golden brown.

Left: Jam of your choice or other topping added to cups before second baking (instructions above). Right: Second baking of cups to make them golden (I like my pastry even darker than this) Photo Credit: Whitney Bond

ALLOW THE CUPS TO COOL BEFORE REMOVING THEM FROM THE PAN. You don’t want the yummy stuff to run out of the pastry cups. Once the cheese and toppings have “hardened” back up, gently work the cups loose from the pan and place on your platter to serve (or your dish to transport to the party!). Enjoy!

Well, that’s the recipes I wanted to share with all of you, from some of our customers, and from myself too. I had a lot of fun with this one (because I’m a foodie), and they all sound amazing! I’m probably going to make all of them.

Oh! I almost forgot, there is also a previous article with some Fall-time recipes here if you’d like to check it out!

Thank you for reading, and see you next time!

Sincerely,

Marissa

Gardening – it’s a Family Affair; A Tribute to Mark Govan

Our world was rocked this week by some very tragic news. One of our local gardening legends, Mark Govan, has passed away. In the wake of this terrible loss, and in his honor, I am going to depart from my usual article format to bring you something a little more personal and heartfelt.

A Tribute to Mark Govan

Mark Govan and Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply have a long history. He’s been promoting us for many years, we’ve been paying advertisers on his radio show for a long time, and we have referred people to back to him for years. You could say we are “superfans” of Mark’s.

Our store had just resumed advertising on the Florida Gardening Radio show in the last few months. We wanted to support Mark somehow after the media conglomerate cancelled his show right near the 25 year mark, but we weren’t sure how to do it. After David Graham of Graham Capital Advisors purchased the show (thank you David! Mark was SO thrilled!), we knew we could be on the air with Mark again. We were so excited, and to celebrate I made a whole new ad campaign around it (see image below).

Part of our awesome ad campaign for our support of Mark’s 25-years-and-running show, Florida Gardening Radio.

In fact, Mark and I had just corresponded last week about upcoming shows, and now he’s just…gone. Just like that.

This sad turn of events has made me pause from many of my normal marketing duties for Shell’s Feed. Mr. Shell and I are both pretty shaken up, and honestly, it has made us both realize that sometimes the stuff we get all uptight about around the store doesn’t actually matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

Further, Mark’s passing has made me think: “If I were to be gone tomorrow, what would I want my legacy to be?” I’m not sure if most people even think about that. Maybe you do. If you have thoughts about your legacy, or what you feel Mark’s legacy is to all of us, I’d love to hear it, please feel free to leave a comment on this article.

You see, we here at Shell’s are a family business, just like Mark’s business at ABC Pest Control and BuyPlumerias.com. Just this Spring I purchased two beautiful plumerias from Mark at the USF Spring Plant Sale at the Botanical Gardens. And just a couple weeks ago, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Mark’s daughter as she was having fun being the in-studio guest on his show. It was great listening to their relationship play out on the air.

Families Find Strength in Each Other

So, now I am thinking about how a family finds the strength to carry on when the Patriarch (or when a Matriarch) has moved into the next phase of existence. How does a family keep going after losing someone so dear, who is missed so much?

I’m sure it’s different for everyone. But for me, it’s the memories.

Mark will continue to be present in every life that he touched through his companies, and through his 25 years giving great garden advice and providing great educational content on the radio. Many people have ‘garden hacks’ they learned from Mark. Many more have learned to troubleshoot their garden issues from his advice. He lives on through these lessons, and the knowledge he freely and happily shared with others.

Mark Govan at the helm during his 25-year run as host of the Florida Gardening Show.

I had a Gardening Dad, Too

This sad event also makes me think of my biggest influence in gardening, my Dad, who passed away when I was a teenager. If you’ve heard me speak, or even read some of my early blog entries, I talk about my Dad being a ‘subsistence farmer’. He didn’t think of it that way, he called it survival. He grew food to eat, because food is expensive.

My Daddy, before he went to Vietnam.

I still do some things today the way Dad did them back then…it’s been nearly 3 decades since he was around to share his knowledge. I still have his books on gardening. I still have all the memories of digging in the dirt, of eating tomatoes before they made it into the house, with the raised eyebrow of my Mema when she would catch me. In my mind’s eye I can still see the way the garden was set up, and the layout of his whole homestead property.

So, I carry on what I learned from my Dad just by continuing to garden. It’s how I remember him. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me.

I don’t have very many pictures of my Dad, but when I was a kid this was often how we spent our time, nestled in a recliner with our Dachsund keeping us warm. I still remember it.

Looking to the Future

I know that ABC Pest Control is going strong, and they will continue helping people in his tradition, because I know that is what Mark would have wanted. And I know that Mark’s family will continue helping people and providing great service just like Mark did all those years. It’s all in the family, this practice of helping people.

I would imagine Mark would have wanted for us to remember him by making our little corners of the world more beautiful through gardening.

So, Mark, this is our fond farewell. Sunday mornings won’t ever be the same without you.

Thank you for all you did for the gardening community here in Tampa Bay, and in Florida. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

We’re all still learning from you. May it always be so.

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. This Saturday’s Monthly Community Seed Swap is 9am-10:30am and if anyone would like to come and talk about Mark and share advice he’s given you over the years through his show I’m happy to do so.

Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery, Part 1: What Soil Amendments Do

If you’ve been to our store, you know that in our garden amendments section we have LOTS of bags and bottles of stuff with funny names, maybe even funny smells, and not a lot of information written on them. I call it the “Garden Aisle of Mystery,” even in my own store.

Here’s part of the Garden Aisle of Mystery…

I know that this section of our store, or any garden store really, can be kind of intimidating, and I want to fix that! So, I’m writing this series as a reference for you. This is the very first of a “mostly monthly” series I want to do to help you figure out what you might need for your lawn, landscape, and/or garden.

So, I’m going to go “mostly alphabetical” as I name and describe a few items per Episode. As I move forward I will probably do some video snippets to embed here on the website as a useful visual guide. Until then, well, you’re stuck with my writing and pictures. If you want some more quick definitions, check out our Garden Glossary.

DISCLAIMER: Before you read about a product and just guess that your lawn, garden, and/or landscape need something, I urge you to take the necessary proper steps: 1) have your soil tested, either with a test kit or through your local UF IFAS County Extension Office; 2) make sure that your plants really have the issue you think they have before treating with anything. We can help.

Agricultural Limestone

Also called Calcific Limestone, Dolomite, Dolomitic Lime, Ag Lime, Garden Lime – Agricultural Limestone is a powdery substance made of pulverized limestone. Limestone is mainly made up of Calcium Carbonate, but can also include Calcium Oxide, Magnesium Oxide, and Magnesium Carbonate.

Agricultural Limestone is used in soil to counteract acidity for plants that need a more neutral or alkaline soil to absorb nutrients. It increased the pH to make the soil more alkaline. Some plants require alkalinity or neutral pH to take up water and nutrients through the root systems. Also, for plants such as hydrangeas, often the pH of the soil dictates what colors the flowers will be.

In vegetable gardening, Agricultural Limestone is used to help combat diseases such as Blossom End Rot. This problem is very common in tomatoes and peppers where the soil does not have sufficient calcium and/or magnesium to complete the transformation of the flower into the fruit.

Blossom End Rot in Tomatoes

Blossom end rot is not your friend, make sure you add lime to your beds with veggies!!

Aluminum Sulfate

Aluminum Sulfate, as with most powdered sulfur compounds, will decrease the pH of soil making it more acidic. This is useful when the soil is already too alkaline for the type of plants you want to plant in a particular place.

Aluminum Sulfate can be used for plants that like acidity, such has roses, blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and blackberries or raspberries. Also, again with hydrangeas, it will change the color of the flowers. It is an acidifier that doesn’t have to break down to provide the acidity. The pH will change instantly once it’s added to the soil.

Acid loving plants: Hydrangeas (left), and Azaleas (right).

This amendment should be worked into the top 6″ of soil with a shovel or rototiller for best results, and if you’re planting a lot of plants that require acidity in an area you can add it to the whole area to instantly provide the acidity the plants will need.

Ammonium Nitrate

Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer (the link will not work during the City of Tampa fertilizer ban June 1 – September 30)

You know on regular bags of fertilizer there’s that 3-digit listing on the front, like 12-6-8 or 3-3-3? That’s your N-P-K indication required on all fertilizers. N = Nitrogen, P = Phophorus, K = Potassium.

Ammonium Nitrate is pretty much straight up Nitrogen. It gives your plants a boost when it’s bloom time and fruiting time. Plants use nitrogen to grow leaves and flowers and fruits.

Plants need nitrogen to grow – it’s in Chlorophyll which is the essential tool for photosynthesis, and it’s in plant proteins too.

This is also one of the things that we cannot sell during the June-September fertilizer ban because it will wash out of the soil and into our beautiful Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico during summer rains.

If you’re needing some nitrogen in this form, we’ll have it back on the shelves by October 1. In the meantime we have other organic solutions for you that are not subject to the City of Tampa’s fertilizer ban. Just ask us, we’ll help you out.

Blood Meal

Blood meal is exactly what it sounds like. Blood from animals is dried into a powder. It is an excellent source of nitrogen and iron , and works as a soil acidifier too.

It is a dry powder because it is dehydrated, meaning all liquid is removed.

There are alternatives to blood meal, namely alfalfa meal and feather meal, which are also exactly what they sound like – ground alfalfa and ground feathers.

Bone Meal

Bone meal is dried and pulverized bones from animals (and/or fish). When used in vegetable gardening it increases the flowering of the plants very quickly.

This is because bone meal is a great source of Phosphorus (the P in NPK), which is necessary to make flowers.

Profusely blooming Echinacea (purple cone flowers)

Alternatives to this are soft rock phosphate, urine, and manure. Manure will have to break down before it can offer phosphate, but bone meal, soft rock phosphate and urine all have it immediately available.

I know, I know, you’re thinking “urine, that can’t be right” but I promise, you read it correctly. If you can get over the possible “ick” factor you’re feeling right now, fresh urine is high in nitrogen, moderate in phosphorus and low in potassium and can act as an excellent high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer or as a compost accelerator.

So go ahead, pee in the garden! (C’mon, I had to say it, how often does anyone get to say it?)

A beautiful garden is made up of many things…

Alright, that’s what I’ve got for this blog. I’ll go over more of the items in my Solving the Aisle of Mystery series as we move forward in time, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime if you have questions about something on our shelves, don’t hesitate to ask.

Let’s keep growing!

Marissa

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

shells feed garden supply tampa florida compost composting recycle recycling mulch organic food waste soil dirt garden gardens gardening

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.

shells feed garden supply tampa florida compost superhero composting eliminate food waste make soil garden gardening
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

Shell’s Feed Bird Food Guide

Shell’s Feed Bird Food Guide
By Marissa

Do you love bird-watching?  Are you fascinated by bird behaviors, their interactions with each other, and all the bright colors of their feathers?  Well, you’re not alone. Birdwatching is ranked the #2 outdoor activity in the US, second only to gardening.

According to Global Harvest Foods, backyard bird feeding is a $6.3 billion market in the United States alone, with 5 million households participating in backyard bird watching and 3 million households that buy birdseed at least sometimes.  Amazing, right?

I’ve always been fascinated by birds.  I can sit on my backyard swing and watch the birds in the bird feeder for a long time and never grow bored.  It’s definitely better than television or staring at my phone! I love the challenge of trying to identify the species of all the birds that show up at my feeder.  

Birds I’ve identified so far at my feeder:  Mourning Doves, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Yellowthroat, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, House Finches, Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Scarlet Tanager, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadee. I think there is one that is another Warbler but I haven’t been able to pick out which one…yet.  It’s an ongoing adventure!

 

 

Many of the seed items and mixes listed below are available at our store.  I have marked those items in bold type in the Food labels above the left-side pictures column below.  The plain text italicized items are things that you either probably have on hand at home or you can easily get from a farmer’s market or store.  We sell seed mixes in large bags and some by the pound, and if you’re trying to attract birds that like fruit and nuts, we have parrot/macaw mixes that would “fit the bill” nicely (see what I did there? Birds have bills? OK OK I’ll stop the puns for now).  In the future I’ll post more about feeders and how to make good bird food suet and peanut butter cakes that your feathered friends will love.

 

What Can Bird Watching Bring To You?

There is such drama and politics in bird life, they all tell a little story, and they all have their own feather characteristics, behavior quirks, and sparkling personalities. It’s really fun to witness the natural order of things while knowing that my backyard feathered friends are well fed with quality seed and food.  It’s a small price to pay for so much entertainment.

 

A Guide to Our Guide

I wanted to give you a little guide to what bird foods would attract different birds, just to have a general reference.  There are lots of different options for some birds, and other birds are very specific in what they like to snack on.  Also, not all these birds necessarily are here all year long…and some may not be here at all; the guides that I used for my research weren’t always specific to Florida – but hey, maybe you’re reading this and live in another state!  If a specific bird listed isn’t here, I know that birds related to it will be around.  Also, some food is good for a whole class of birds, like “warblers” or “sparrows”, etc.

 

Have more to add to my guide below?  Please comment or drop me a line!  I hope you enjoy this guide – I had fun making it.  I also hope to see you pick up some bird food and feeders from our store in the near future.  I promise you won’t regret having all the fun feathered friends who come to visit!

Sincerely,  Marissa

(scroll down for the guide)

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens

Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens
By Marissa

You want to feed yourself and your family fabulous produce that you grew in your yard, and that’s awesome.  There’s nothing like that sense of accomplishment when you bring in baskets full of wonderful vegetables, or pop a beautifully sun-ripened cherry tomato in your mouth that you just picked off the plant.  When two-thirds of your dinner plate is colorful, delicious vegetables from your garden, you know you’re living a fantastic, purposeful life.

But when do you feed the plants that give you those great vegetable harvests?  Well, they will need a little something extra at several points during their growing cycle, and here are some tips for you to ensure that your plants will have everything they need to feed your family and still live happy, healthy plant lives. 

Before I dive in, there is one little thing that is important to know about fertilizer – it’s not technically “plant food” – rather it is a supplement of nutrients the plant needs to successfully create all of the nutritional molecules it needs to survive and thrive during its own photosynthesis process.  Think of fertilizer as something akin to taking Vitamins rather than eating a meal – it actually helps with knowing when it’s best to fertilize!

Here’s our top tips for fertilizing Florida Gardens – an article inspired by feedback from you, our customers!

#1 – Fertilize at Planting Time

Whether you’re planting seeds or starter plants, work organic fertilizer, nutrient-rich compost, or slow-release into the top 4-6” of soil of your planting area.  You can also drop a “3-finger pinch” into the planting hole, as long as it’s worked into the soil as well – you don’t want to burn the roots with too much nitrogen matter.  Always water fertilized areas well to activate the release of the nutrients from the dry granules. I recommend a 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose. Also, if you are planting peppers and/or tomatoes, you really should add dolomite lime to the soil you are planting those plants in, it will help you avoid blossom-end rot.

#2 – Fertilize When Seedlings Have First True Leaves

If you started with starter plants, this will not apply to you.  If you started from seeds, your sprouts will have their initial leaves – known as “seed leaves” or, scientifically, Cotelydons – that get the photosynthesis process started for the plant.  These leaves are responsible for getting the plant embryo inside the seed from the initial “rooting & shooting” stage to establishing a more complex and environmentally-engaged root system – they create the energy needed to establish the plant for better survival immediately.  

These leaves usually look a little different than the leaves at the time of fruit production later in life – so they probably won’t look like the pictures on the seed packet (and that’s ok). The leaves that form after the cotelydons are the true leaves, and true leaves will usually be higher on the stalk than the seed leaves.  

If you didn’t fertilize into the seed or seedling hole directly at the time of planting, work a small handful, or “a palm-full,” of fertilizer into the top inch of the soil around the bottom of the plant, keeping about 1” away from the stalk so that you don’t disturb the fragile newly-formed root ball too much. You could still go for the 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose (could do 10-10-10 if that’s all you have – just something balanced in all the NPK nutrients).

 

 

 

#4 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flush of Fruit – if you missed the first Flower Buds

Sometimes you look away for 5 seconds, and all of a sudden, you didn’t even see the first flowers – you now just have little fruits forming everywhere.  It’s ok – your plant is doing well with what you already fed it!  Just give it a little nudge now.  A small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil as a side dressing along each plant will work for this.

You can encourage the size of your fruits by giving them a little phosphorus and potassium (“K” in the NPK number) push when they set their first round of fruits.  Another great idea is some micronutrient boosters, such as FoxFarm’s Kelp Me Kelp You supplement – made from sustainable Kelp sources and teeming with all the right stuff for fantastic fruit.

Your Plants should be good through a harvest now.

 

#6 – Fertilize When Second Fruiting is Underway

Most plants are nearing the end of their “annual” lives by now, and the second flush of fruits can often be more productive than the first (really depending on the plant!).  It’s like they’re really hitting their groove. Biologically, the reason the plant fruits so much in the second fruiting is that it’s trying to produce viable seeds to continue the genetic line before the plant dies. 

They’re going to need some Phosphorus for heavy fruiting and Potassium for overall healthy growth and support, so a high- P and K fertilizer is good here.

 

#8 – Fertilize On A Schedule If Your Plants Have a Mixed Flowering/Fruiting Cycle

What if #5 & #6 above don’t really apply? Some plants don’t “flush” with flowers and fruits consecutively – rather, they will have flowers and fruits at the same time over the long haul.  A plant that comes to mind for me is pole beans, which function in a “the more you pick, the more I’ll produce” kind of behavior until the plant has exhausted all of its resources.  In that case, you can figure out when to fertilize based on production.

For example, when your two jalapeno pepper plants hit 30 peppers harvested and still has flowers, go ahead and fertilize and add dolomite.

After a season or two of growing and harvesting, you’ll be able to tell when your leafy kids need a boost. If you notice your pole beans start to slow down production, but you still see some flowers and the leaves look healthy, give them a good fertilizing and some compost tea and see if you can increase the bean count.  If not, well, you didn’t lose much with the experiment, and if you do get an increase, you know that your plant was just catching its breath and needed some nutrients to recover.

This is where your garden journal really comes in handy at tracking your growth and harvest cycles.

 

 

 

#10 – Be Consistent and Observant

I saved this tip for the very last because it is the thought I wanted to leave you with.  Even if consistent gardening for you is 10 minutes a day – 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening – be consistent about it.  Observe your plants’ behavior and you will learn when it needs a little push. You’ll know when it’s growing fine and doesn’t need more nutrients.  You’ll know when there’s too much fertilizer (plants look burned from too much nitrogen).  You’ll also know when your plant is eventually spent and can be pulled (and added to the compost pile if it’s not diseased) and replanted with something else.  Giving your plants building blocks so they can make the nutrients they need, when they need it, is one of the most important things we can do to help our gardens grow, thrive, and produce for us.

 

#3 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flower Buds

You’ve probably been waiting awhile for the first flowers to show up.  It’s worth the wait! Your plants are growing long root structures and creating relationships with the microbial life in the soil, growing strong stems to support the eventual fruits that are coming, and the leaves it needs to feed all those processes. It’s a complex and wonderful time for a plant.

You can use the same fertilizer as above, but I would recommend a high Phosphorus (“P” in the NPK number on the fertilizer bag).  Phosphorus concentrates on growing strong blooms and fruits, and roots too, which are needed to feed said above-ground plant features.  Encouraging flowering will give you more fruit, and fruit is why we work so hard at vegetable gardening, right? Work a small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil around each plant.

 

#5 – Fertilize After First Harvest & Second Flowering Starts

You’ve harvested your first flush of fruit, pinched back the stems that had those fruits on them, and now you’re seeing more flowers starting to bud on new stems.  Give your plants some more 3-3-3, 6-6-6, 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. It’s also a good time for some more dolomite lime in the soil for those peppers, tomatoes, and the like.  If you have it, work some veggie compost, earthworm castings, mushroom compost into the soil as well to feed the roots (a great time to weed thoroughly!!), and do a couple of waterings with compost tea.  

**Simple Compost tea recipe: spread out a cheesecloth, a little bigger than a bandana, and place a double-handful of compost in the middle of it. Tie off the cheesecloth so that it makes a pouch tied with a single top knot.  Fill a 5-gallon bucket with water (rainwater if you have it) about 2/3 full and submerge the compost-in-cheesecloth in it. Cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, agitate it whenever you’re out and about in the garden. Use the water from that bucket to give your plants a nutrition-rich drink – they will love you for it – you’ll see!  It can be used at any growth stage, but I like to do it at this point to “recharge” the plant for it’s second round of production. Throw the dirt from the cheesecloth back in your compost, or add it to your garden’s soil for an extra boost.**

At this point in the plant’s life, it’s just run a marathon for you, and you’re helping it recover so that it can start training again for a second go!  See what I mean about the “Vitamins” analogy?

 

 

#7 – Fertilize Again If Your Plants Are Game For Round 3

If it seems like your plants are game for a third round, you can continue the above fertilizing pattern for the foreseeable future.  

Sometimes Annuals and Vegetables in Florida continually produce because our weather is so mild here. They will slow down in cooler weather, usually, but if it doesn’t get really cold, something you plant in Spring may be still producing in December – so don’t be surprised!  

Actually, our Florida garden’s most fearsome enemy is the unabating heat of summer – where it’s still 90+ degrees in the middle of the night, the roots and leaves don’t get a rest.

 

 

#9 – Specialty Fertilizers and Soil Additives Can Really Help

I’m sure you’ve seen the shelves in the fertilizer section with a myriad of different things with strange names on them.  Bone meal, blood meal, hydrated lime, bloom boosters, liquid kelp, bat guano, microbial enhancers/inoculators, Superthrive, acidifiers, micronutrient boosters, and so many more.  It can be overwhelming!  That’s why it’s important to have people on your side that you can talk to, like our staff at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply.  Stop in and ask us!

There are fertilizers that are formulated specifically for different kinds of plants as well, like Citrus, Palms, Azaleas/Rhododendrons, Roses, Tomato, Lawn & Landscape, and more.  Soil additives like Soil Conditioner helps add more organic and/or moisture-holding materials into the soil you already have. Florida soil in most areas is really sandy, so adding organic material and vermiculite or perlite help hold water near your plants’ roots longer so that they can have time to absorb it before the water runs through is helpful.  

Shell’s also formulated several fertilizers specifically for Florida soils to help your gardens thrive – please ask us about them! We have Organic too!

Another product that is helpful in keeping water near plant roots is Hydretain, which is an environmentally-friendly liquid that you apply through a hose-sprayer. It works wonders in areas of lawn, garden, and landscape that seem to not retain water at all, such as slopes.  I find it also helps to extend the crop life into the blistering heat of our summer.

 

 

I really hope this article is a good foundation for establishing your fertilizing “schedule” in your garden.  Please keep in mind that every single garden, and plant in it, is different. So while these tips work generally, your plants may need more, or less, depending on their individual environments, growing cycle, weather for that year, watering habits, soil microbial health, and many more variables.  

In the future I plan to bring you articles about nutrient deficiencies, so come visit us again for some helpful articles about that and other things.

For now, though, if you have questions, concerns, or comments about my tips here or any article in my blog, just contact me – I’m easy to find.  And you can always ask our experts at the store for your garden product and problem questions – that’s what we do!

Take care, and happy gardening!

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

Next Page