Thursday, December 15, 2011

Garden reflection

Amy over at Get Busy Gardening posted her thoughts on her garden successes and failures for the past year, and how she plans to remedy those for next year. With all that I have learned this year, I thought I would share my own experiences. However, in my case, my lists will be more of "What I should have done" and "What I learned"

It is unfortunate that it takes a whole year to glean knowledge from gardening (unlike, say, dancing or singing), but the small tidbits of new information make the whole process, good or bad, worth it when you see the successes the next season.

While I have had some sort of garden for a few years now, this year was my biggest, making things a bit more of a challenge. So with out further ado...

I should have:
  • Amended the soil better: One of the biggest challenges with gardening in Florida is the "wonderful" sand we have to grow in (note sarcasm). With a small budget, I was only able to get a about 5 bags of Black Cow to be spread throughout my garden. I added my own compost, but that's another bullet point. However, pink eye purple hull peas do excellent in that sand!
  • Mulched: Would have reduced watering, and held on to the rain water, which is so much better (my plants always took off after a rain).
  • Stuck with a garden my budget would allow: Lack of amendments and mulch was due mostly to the available cash for gardening. With a smaller garden, one bale of hay, and the 5 bags of BC would have been sufficient.

I learned:
  • Soil and dirt are completely different: A local farmer was featured on our PBS station, and he said he uses leaves as one of his amendments. So, after a spring yard cleaning at church this year, I brought home 35 bags of leaves, and piled them behind my garden... and let them sit. A few months later, I went digging in the pile and under the top layer of still whole leaves, found the best looking black soil I had ever seen. I don't know if I have ever been that excited about gardening up to that point. It felt good, it smelled good, it didn't compact! I even found a few worms in there, which is a very good sign.
  • Compost is not a pile of sand where you throw your yard and food waste, and expect the sand to turn to soil: As hard as I tried, my "compost" piles never did what I wanted. I now know that dirt has no place in the compost pile. Hopefully I will be able to build a proper bin, and get real compost for next year.
  • Weeds are good for watermelons: A friend of mine told that while watermelons like heat to germinate, the actual melons prefer some shade. He said for lack of weeds, he puts palmetto fronds over them for some sunscreen.
  • Nature has all the answers: I watched the fairly new documentary, Back to Eden, and was amazed and inspired by the wealth of information featured. It reports on gardener Paul Gautschi’s experiences over the years as he studied to find a better method of gardening, one he feels God has always had there for us to use. One that is less work, less stress, and has less impact on the environment than any other system today. This is the system I hope to implement this coming spring. I have begun mowing and bagging the brush on my property, and piling it in my garden plot, in the hopes that it will do much the same as the leaves and produce a good soil layer for me to plant into. If you have not yet watched the video, I highly recommend it.

I would be hard pressed to say that any of my gardening efforts were failures in that I gained knowledge I never had before, and can therefor use that to my garden's advantage next season. While of course disappointing when a harvest is less than ideal, there is hope of an even greater abundance next season.

Have a safe and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall harvest

Today I harvested some of the romaine and deer tongue lettuces from the garden. Didn't get any photos, but did have it on a turkey sandwich for lunch, and a grilled chicken wrap for dinner. It is an amazing feeling to be able to walk out back and bring in a large bowl of lettuce you grew yourself.

I can't wait for spring!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back to Eden

In case you have not yet seen it, here is a link to the newly released "Back to Eden" documentary. It follows gardener Paul Gautschi as he explains his discovery of a seemingly new method of gardening, yet one used by nature since the beginning of time. I found it very enlightening and helpful, and am looking forward to implementing these gardening methods next year.

For the lettuce I planted this fall (see post below), I used some composted leaves that I got from my church yard cleaning day. I had piled the 35 bags of leaves behind the garden last spring, only to discover the wonderful compost it turned into under the top layer of leaves. This is the theory behind the documentary—using a cover (wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, etc) and allow it to break down to develop the soil in an effort to reduce the amount of fertilizer and water you use, the amount of weeding that needs to be done, and increase the output from the garden. I have seen nice results already in the lettuce I planted using this method. My goal is to get my whole garden area covered as soon as possible to allow the covering to break down enough to be usable next season.

A great thing about the film are the biblical references Paul uses to describe how God lead him to these ideas, in turn, giving examples of who God is and how he works.

I highly recommend anyone interested or active in gardening give it a look. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fall planting begins

Well, I finally had some time this morning to get out and begin my Fall plantings. Going a bit conservative this time and only planting 3 items: romaine lettuce, deer tongue lettuce and turnip greens. (As I write this, I don't remember which tray is which now.... In my haste, I did not label the trays and also accidentally watered my seed packets, so they are on the counter drying out. Will have to wait until the seeds sprout to label each tray.) I had pretty good luck with the turnips last year, so I am hoping that they will go even better this time with the proper care.

My father in law is scaling his gardening down a bit and redoing his compost bin. As a result, he will have quite a few concrete blocks left over that he is giving me. Now I will be able to construct a bin where all the stuff I throw in will stay in there instead of rolling off the hill!

I picked up a good read from the local library that I think is worth sharing. "A Short History of the Honey Bee" by E. Readicker-Henderson discusses the importance of bees to our food supply, their origins, the sweet honey they produce, and the threats they face today's society. The writing is light (poetic, maybe?), mainly focusing on the bees' and never staying too long on the threats of big agriculture, pesticides, etc. If you can find a copy, I recommend picking it up.

Until next time!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A long wait...

I find myself in a bit of gardening withdrawal these days. The summers here in FL bring a hiatus to much planting and growing as the heat and lack of rain make it less than worth the effort. Each morning when I walk outside to feed the dog, I walk back to the garden patch and stare at the bare soil, a lone bean plant still hanging on (and still amazingly producing) with no care from me. I run my stirrup hoe thru the dirt to keep the few weeds and grass at bay, dreaming of the produce to come next season.

My plans are to try my hand at growing greens and lettuce this fall. I had mild success last fall (managed to get a large pot full of turnips; they were quite good, but needed a more thorough washing (crunch!)).

I also want to get some apple trees this year, if the budget will allow. There are many that will grow in our Florida climate, and I see it as a fun and interesting challenge to see if I could get a small orchard going on my property. Perhaps some blueberries as well, and bees... bees would be good too, since I saw only 2 bees this year total. And goats, my wife likes goats, but is unsure if she wants to raise them (she loves, LOVES goat cheese, so that might be the hook that reels her in).

Anyway, not to worry, I am not planning all this at one time... but more and more, the call of the farm speaks louder every day.

Will keep you updated.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Food, Inc and other stuff

By happy accident, I caught Food, Inc on my local PBS station tonight. I have been wanting to see it for some time, but it isn't online anywhere, and I don't have the extra cash to buy it.

If you have never seen it, Food, Inc is a revealing, inspiring, revolting, heart wrenching, somewhat life changing experience. My wife watched it with me, and the seed of starting our own farm I have been trying to plant in her head for some time may have actually started to root! If you are at all in to the local food, slow food movement, then try to catch this show. Anyone want to go in on the purchase of half a grass fed cow!?

In other news, my garden is officially finished for the Spring/Summer. With the exception of my tomato plants, and some sunflowers, all of my other crops have been pulled up. All I managed to get out of the garden this year was one small bell pepper, one cucumber, one rouge cantaloupe, 2 hand fulls of cherry tomatoes, 2 squash, and a good amount of purple hull peas. No corn, okra, watermelons, musk melons, spicy or hot peppers, carrots, lettuce. I say this with a bittersweet tone as, even though I only gleaned a minute amount of produce in comparison to the amount of seed I planted, I am trying to stay positive knowing that I gathered quite a bit on knowledge (mostly the need to amend, amend, amend!). I am giving the remaining tomatoes one more week to show potential.

I ate the pepper in an omelet, a few of the cherry tomatoes in salad, and we plan to cook the peas soon. I am letting the rouge cantaloupe ripen a bit more before I cut it. It is smaller than its parent (store bought), but I am curious to see if it is at all edible.

I have high hopes for my future gardens, and look forward to more success next time!

Friday, June 24, 2011

New beginnings

Well, I have decided that it is time to begin pulling up the current plantings and begin planning for the next season. Working by the example of what farmers and others are doing, it seems that it is just too hot at this time of year in FL to make much work. And with the lack of rain (until yesterday) and below average soil, I feel it best to start clearing the garden, and work on making the soil much more improved for better production. Now, I haven't pulled up everything mind you—my watermelons and tomatoes seem to be doing pretty good (finally got some tomatoes growing on the heirloom plants I started from seed, and I planted these before the ones from Lowes). But I am systematically pulling unproductive plants out and either throwing them on the fire pile or the compost pile.

As far as watering goes, I still haven't figured that out. I can water my garden for hours—hours—and not see the results I get after one good rain like we had yesterday. I think the obvious answer is that there is more water when it rains, which saturates the ground and keeps it from draining so quickly. But how do I replicate that when there is no rain.

One thing I plan to do is definitely put down either row covers or straw over every row to help hold in moisture. I also plan to get as much organic matter in the ground as well so the water doesn't drain so quickly. Our local zoo offers composted manure for whoever will come get it. I will be checking in to that as well.

I haven't decided whether I will plant anything this fall, or just let the ground rest. I would like to do something, even if only one crop. May try greens again. I had OK luck with those last fall.

Monday, June 13, 2011

First fruit

Well, here it is, my first heirloom cucumber (and my first veggie out of this year's garden). This is a Spacemaster from seed I bought from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Though I am excited, I have to admit that this is going to be a somewhat disappointing season. Out of everything I planted, I will most likely only get a fraction of the produce. With the lack of rain, no bees, and unamended soil, it comes as no surprise. I do water as best as I can to compensate.

In an effort to go as organic as possible, I tried to avoid any chemicals, only using some Black Cow and my own compost to amend the soil. My budget being what it is, I could only get so much BC, and had to spread it quite thinly, and the compost wasn't quite ready. Another mistake I made was not tilling the plot from last season, which made for some hard, compact soil. I also tried to co-plant some vegetables, but did it too close together (and I later read that it isn't really necessary or that beneficial). I will admit that I caved and use some MG garden soil and liquid fertilizer on an irregular basis to help the poor soil. I hope to be able to save a bit more money to get some organic amendments in the future.

After removing my first planting of squash for lack of growth, I really amended that row with compost, leaf mold, bone meal, potting soil, and Black Cow. Everything I planted in this row, except for the corn, is doing really good (duh!).

I am quite surprised at how good the watermelons are doing. I have about 10 - 12 growing, some that are about softball size. I should have some good tomatoes, a few peppers, some squash, and of course purple hull peas (those never fail me!!).

My goal at this point is to get at least one of everything to get seeds for next year.

It may sound like I am complaining, but I am really not, as I have gained so much knowledge during the past months. Hopefully my Fall garden will be much better.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Progress in photos...

Garden plot
My sole remaining basil plant (out of 12)
3 types of peppers (what survived of the 36 plants I started with).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Calling all birds...

We have quite a variety of birds on our 3 acre plot, and deciphering their unique calls is quite a challenge. We have the cardinal and woodpecker down, but the rest are giving us a run for our money, as many of the birds are out of sight, or don't stay still long enough for us to find the source of the call.

My daughter's recent inquiry as to if a call we heard was an owl (it was a dove), prompted me to search for sources that have birds sounds to show her what an owl in our area would sound like. During my search on the local library's website, I came across The Backyard Birdsong Guide. There are 2 editions: and Eastern and Central guide, and a Western guide.

I picked up the Eastern guide and I have to say that this is one of the neatest books I have seen. There are 132 recorded bird songs included, from birds all over the eastern and central US. Each bird has a 2 page listing featuring an illustration and some details about its habitat, location and song.

If your local library has a copy, ti is worth it to pick it up, especially if you are into birding. For more information, you can visit the companion site at

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A gardener's learning process...

It is amazing how quickly frustration goes away with knowledge. As I work this year's garden, I am learning all I can (thru books, web searches, forums, etc) and experimenting to see what works and what doesn't. It is quite interesting how satisfying failures can be when you allow yourself to get past the aggravation and see the knowledge that can be gained to be used on future plantings. Just in the past month and a half since I planted, I have learned many lessons that will be valuable come next spring.

While I admittedly would have liked to have known all this before I started, I take it as part of my initiation of sorts. As a new gardener, I now know that it is crazy to believe that your first efforts will be 100 percent successful. You have to invest the time to experiment and see what works for you, in your area of the world. There are so many factors that affect the outcome of a garden—soil condition, weather, available time, pests, diseases, money—and they change every year, and are different for everyone, even if the distance between is just around the corner. And it only gets harder if you are trying to go organic! (Right now, I am working on sustainable; organic may have to wait a few years.)

So, if you are a new gardener like me, allow yourself to fail and let it be OK. Figure out what went wrong and how to correct it and use that information to create a success next season!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New beginnings

I am a bit frustrated with the way the garden is behaving. I have (had) squash plants that were about 6" tall and already beginning to flower. I posted the problem on GardenWeb, and most said it was due to stress on the plant. Still being a novice gardener, I have no idea what could be stress my plants. I water regularly (though I may have been over watering in the beginning), and put out a some bone meal and blood meal to fertilize. However, they may need some immediate fertilizer as the bone meal and blood meal I have is slow release (learned that after I bought it).

So, in an effort to see what is wrong, I pulled up all the squash plants. I dug deep into the row and turned over the soil the entire length. I then added some Black Cow, home made compost, potting soil, some leaf mold, and bone meal, and turned all of that into the soil. I did my best to not compact the soil as I worked ( I did not till this part of the garden this year, which may be an issue as well).

When that was done, I planted some new squash, watermelon, corn, and peas in this row as an experiment. The watered thoroughly.

I did not amend the whole garden this way in the beginning due to time and budgetary reasons (the garden is a lot bigger this time), but if this proves fruitful (pun intended), then I will make an effort in the fall to get my soil like it is supposed to be, amending and perhaps planting a cover crop, to be ready for spring 2012.

Will keep you posted!

UPDATE: I have now pulled up the first set of southern peas I planted. They were so over run with aphids and their "shepherds" (ants), and they appeared stunted, and also may have been affecting the corn I co-planted them with. I have since put out some ant killer to hopefully get rid of them (and the aphids) and will try again with some peas soon. The corn looks better since I pulled the peas out too. May have had too much together. I'm still learning! : )

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How is your garden growing...

Here is an update on how things are progressing in the garden:

Almost the whole garden, looking northwest. Click the image to see the labels.
Bought these at Lowes. They are Ferry-Morse Black Krim organic seeds.
My 3 types of peppers (spice, hot, and bell) with marigolds in the middle.
These are red potatoes from store bought "seeds". Planted them to see what would happen. So far I found 2 small potato buds!
Trying to go as organic as possible this year, so I put some MG organic blood meal and bone meal out today as all my plants were looking a bit yellow (haven't fertilized anything since I planted them about 4 weeks ago). With the rain we are getting now, I hope to see great improvement in all the plants.

The Black Krim tomatoes are Miracle Gro soil, and far outgrew the tomato seeds I planted in some inexpensive garden soil I bought. I have since transplanted the other tomatoes into larger pots with some MG soil, and they seem to be growing better. I hope to do the same with the peppers. They have not grown much in the past week or so, and I think it is due to the soil they are in (nothing has been lacking for water).

Anyway, that's what has been going on since the last post. Fingers crossed and prayers lifted high for a bountiful year! Hope you are having good luck as well.

Happy Gardening!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekend update!

Cow Horn Okra seedlings

Sweet Valentine Romaine Lettuce seedlings

It's been a week since I planted, and most of my seeds have germinated. The tomatoes and peppers are taking longer (peppers are supposed to take a long time, but not sure about the tomatoes). Finally had one basil poke thru! I have some Texas Hill Red okra that is giving me a fit, so I am experimenting with other ways to get it to germinated like the Cow Horn okra from my father-in-law.

I finished clearing the rest of the garden plot for this year (making it bigger than last year). Going to try to plant all the seeds that are to be direct sowed this week. Made a small 2' x 4' potting table out of some scrap wood.

One piece of advice: don't put hay in your dogs pen and then put said used hay in the compost. Apparently hay makes a good home for fleas. We got all that cleaned out of the dogs area, and not thinking, I said "Hey, this would be good for the compost!" So... now we have fleas in the compost area (insert sarcastic "YEA!").  I put some flea killer in that area, but then realized that that might kill the good critters in the compost, so I don't plan to retreat it. Anyone have any ideas on how to organically get rid of fleas!??

On a final note, my son built a birdhouse as a Cub Scout project last year, and we finally got it on a post around Thanksgiving. I am happy to report that we have a momma and papa blue bird who have taken residence in his house. It is really neat as she has the nest all finished. We just hope that her and the protective papa can ward off any would-be predators. Below are some pics of the momma!

I want to build a few more houses around the property, as well as a house for Mason or Solitary bees, if there are any in this area, near the garden. When I planted watermelon last fall, I could believe the amount of bees that came around. Don't know where they came from, and I hope they come back this year!

Anyway, hope all is going well in your garden!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A good book...

Wanted to share a great gift my wife surprised me with this past Christmas. Know my aspirations to be a farmer, she found this book in the Lakeside Collection catalog we get. At 480 pages, this book is chock full information for the would-be "farmer", or individual who wants to live as much off the land as they want. It contains info about gardening (flowers, fruits, and vegetables), animals, crafts, building a root cellar, and so much more.

You can also get this on Amazon, and perhaps thru your local bookstore. At only $10 - $12, the amount of info contained within is worth far more than the price.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The seeds are planted... partly.

Sunday evening I was able to get outside and plant some of my seeds in my starter trays. Per some articles I read, I pre-soaked my okra and pepper seeds in warm water for a few hours Saturday, leaving the hot pepper seed in the water over night. I placed the other pepper and okra seeds in wet paper towels.

When I opened the towels with the okra seed to plant them, both varieties had already sprouted!

I am pumped about this season, and am praying for a great harvest!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ready to plant...

Been a while since I posted. Just  quick update to say that the spring garden will be planted this weekend. We ordered a bunch of seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, including tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, musk melons (similar to cantaloupe), okra, squash herbs, and more. If all goes well, I hope to at least update every week, perhaps with some videos. I hope all my followers (all 3 of you! :D ), are in the spirit as well, and wish you the best of luck this planting season.