Seminole County farm tour 2014: Best tips, insights

Organic Sanctuary wildflowers Seminole County farm tour 2014: Best tips, insights

Garden plots mix flowers, herbs and vegetables at Organic Sanctuary in Geneva, Fla.

I took the annual Seminole County farm tour this Friday – five farms and one ranch in six hours. What diversity we have in our midst! And I’m not just talking about the farms themselves; the good folks raising food in my county are as different in their methods as the cornucopia of vegetables they grow.

We met Maya Fiallos and her husband, Lawrence Usher, owners of Maya Papaya Organic Farm near UCF. The couple ditched corporate lives to do something more meaningful — grow unpolluted food using sustainable practices. Not only are they growing organic food on the Oviedo property, but they operate an aquaponic greenhouse there. Tilapia farmed in fish tanks produce waste that is liquid fertilizer. It goes through a filtering system and is piped back in to water their greenhouse vegetables and herbs.

Maya Papaya Organic Farm Seminole County farm tour 2014: Best tips, insights

Julie, Maya and Lawrence explain what they do at Maya Papaya Organic Farm.

Maya and Lawrence sell the produce to CSA members who buy shares in 10-week increments. Spring is sold out but they are taking members for the fall season.

The couple have plans to build off-grid cabins for people who want to learn sustainable farming. And if Florida voters approve medicinal marijuana on this fall’s ballot, they want to grow marijuana for medicine or industrial hemp for natural products.

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April garden: Pictures tell the story

April garden 8 April garden: Pictures tell the story

Forellenschluss lettuce

The April garden and landscape promise to be the most prolific yet as vegetables, herbs and fruit grow everywhere in a half-acre suburban yard. My plantings fill three raised beds, line a backyard walkway, climb a pergola and create an edible front yard landscape. The variety of food will keep the menu interesting throughout the spring and summer.

I created two photo galleries to show the diversity of what’s growing. The first photo gallery is all about the vegetables. The second gallery, fruit.  

I have been planting something almost every week as my winter vegetables petered out. I started with Atomic carrots in early February, followed by sugar snap peas, provider beans and black seeded Simpson lettuce later in the month.

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Seminole County farm tour 2014: Fertile ground for gardeners

ScreenHunter 02 Mar. 26 21.17 Seminole County farm tour 2014: Fertile ground for gardeners

Seminole County has arranged a free tour of area farms April 11, and I’m going to take that Friday off from work to go. It is a rare opportunity to learn from the pros, the farmers. And this lineup is stocked with organic growers.

Here are the tour stops on the Seminole County Farm Tour, as outlined on the county website:

  • South Seminole Farm and Nursery, Casselberry. I know this nursery well. I buy plants here, have taken their organic gardening class and know the staff by name. I am looking forward to seeing the farm behind the nursery. My husband caught a glimpse and reports that it’s huge! I hear they are planning to sell their farm produce at the nursery.

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Organic gardening tips for keeping pests under control

 

April in the garden 008 Organic gardening tips for keeping pests under control

Marigolds, basil, pepper and tomatoes are good companion plants.

“What do you do about the bugs?” I hear that a lot from people who want to have an organic garden but are flummoxed by Florida’s reputation of leaf-eating caterpillars, cutworms, beetles, snails and other garden pests. I use a lot of natural methods to grow food. I won’t spray commercial pesticides on my plants, period.

One method I use is companion planting. It has other benefits besides pest control, but in some cases pairing complementary vegetables or herbs acts as natural pest control. It might be the companion plant attracts beneficial insects to eat the harmful ones, or the plant has a scent or taste that repels a predator bug. For instance, growing radishes with lettuces helps repel flea beetles, according to the Wikipedia planting companion chart. I consult this chart often before planting. Companion planting has other benefits, too. Some vegetables and herbs just grow better together, such as basil and tomatoes. Maybe that’s why they taste so good together in Caprese salad.

One misconception that every new gardener should understand is that your garden needs insects and bugs. Most are good and help your plants grow. I cheer when I see a lady bug or wasp in the garden. (Check out Organic Gardening’s slide show on beneficial insects.) You can help attract beneficial insects by planting marigolds and herbs such as dill, parsley, fennel and basil. Somehow Mother Nature worked this out, and I trust Her more than most of the companies manufacturing chemical pesticides.

Using the methods that American Indians and other farmer ancestors developed appeals to me. It’s not as simple as buying a can of spray — and it does require more research — but long-term it is a more satisfying way to grow your food.

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Gardening tips for spring: Scout your sun, soil, water

March garden 148 Gardening tips for spring: Scout your sun, soil, water

Spring is the perfect time to start growing vegetables and herbs.

I have been gardening intensively for about six years, so sometimes it is hard to remember why I hesitated to start in the first place. I had tried it once about 20 years before, failed utterly, and thought I had a black thumb. The catalyst for me was the economy imploding in 2008. Mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I needed an activity that gave me more control over something as basic as growing my own food. So I tried again. If you are thinking about starting a vegetable garden but fear of failure is holding you back, this post is for you. I will break gardening down to its simplest elements so that you want to start.

Sun, soil and water. Getting these three ingredients right is the most important thing you can do.

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Vegetable gardening in March: what to plant

spring garden march 2 012 Vegetable gardening in March: what to plant

A friend asked me if it was too late to plant seeds for a spring vegetable garden. In Florida, that’s not a dumb question to ask the first week of March. While the rest of the country is packed in snow, Florida is warming up fast. We have about 13-14 weeks of perfect vegetable gardening weather, and maybe another 2 weeks bordering on too-hot weather before most plants cry “Uncle.”

I told my friend to start now with her seeds and throw in some transplants to kick-start her container garden. That will shave off 4-8 weeks for some vegetables and space out her harvest.

Before I planted, I topped off my raised beds last week with a manure/compost mix. My friend, Mary Frances, said the secret to her tomato bounty is lots of manure so I’m following her lead.

I am relying mostly on transplants with some plants from seeds that I already put into the ground. Here is what I am planting this weekend:

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Spring collides with winter garden

florida winter garden Spring collides with winter garden

I am so tired of eating broccoli from the winter garden that I pulled all 15 plants out this morning. Well, first I harvested the last of the stalks and will serve it to dinner guests tonight. Let them oooh and aaah over their tenderness. I am ready to move on to something new.

winter garden broccoli Spring collides with winter garden

I’m dreaming of white eggplant. Purple tomatoes. Green beans. Red peppers.

Yet I can’t cut ties with my other winter vegetables. The Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi need another week or two to mature. Hurry up, I coax them. I’m already gardening in shorts. Winter is over in Orlando. Figuratively speaking they are about to turn into pumpkins!

winter garden brussels sprouts Spring collides with winter garden

Besides, I need the room in my raised beds for tomatoes, beans and peppers. I’m going to have to make some brutal decisions. I’ll give them one more week, maybe start the spring garden in containers and keep a close eye on rising temps. The fact that my blueberries are ripening — six weeks early! — is another sign that spring is arriving early.

Another option would be to build more raised beds. Hmmmm.

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winter garden kohlrabi Spring collides with winter garden

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Greek yogurt easy to make

greek yogurt Greek yogurt easy to make

I learned how to make Greek yogurt in a cheese-making class. It was the most simple lesson of the class, and ultimately may be the most useful for me.

I eat Greek yogurt every morning before work. It’s fast, high protein, and the perfect base for fruit, nuts and seeds. What I didn’t know until now is that Greek yogurt is plain yogurt with the whey strained out. It has twice the protein of regular yogurt, according to webMD, and one of the most nutritious foods you can eat.

making Greek yogurt Greek yogurt easy to make

Class instructor Liz Dannemiller, owner of Green Flamingo Organics, strains raw yogurt to make Greek yogurt.

In class we used raw yogurt. Raw dairy is somewhat controversial because of the risk of food poisoning. Raw milk is sterile straight from the cow or goat. Big commercial dairies use pasteurization, a high-heat sterilization process that kills microorganisms that may have been picked up in packaging. Raw milk isn’t pasteurized. So at Florida farmers’ markets and health-food stores where raw dairy is sold, it will be labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” I am willing to take the risk because of my dairy’s reputation in the farm-to-table community, but everyone has to educate themselves and make their own decisions about using raw dairy. If you can find non-homogenized yogurt that has been pasteurized, that also is an option.

Here is how I made my Greek yogurt:

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Good Neighbors Farmers Market has become Saturday ritual

good neighbors farmers market 026 Good Neighbors Farmers Market has become Saturday ritual

My neck of the woods suddenly is an epicenter of the local food movement. Well, that may be an overstatement, but consider this: Winter Springs recently got its first farm-to-table restaurant; The Fresh Market will open in two weeks; and my favorite new spot, a new 35-acre farmers market just opened with a petting farm. This last development has neighbors buzzing most.

good neighbors farmers market 015 Good Neighbors Farmers Market has become Saturday ritual

Robinson’s Citrus from Haines City, Fla., sells navel oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.

When Good Neighbors Farmers Market opened the first Saturday of 2014, it seemed everyone in the neighborhood came to check it out. It’s no wonder. The land on which it sits has intrigued me for years. Majestic oaks have shaded this farmland in the middle of a suburb. I would drive by it often and peer through the trees to see an occasional steer or piece of farm equipment. And then suddenly the owners were announcing the Farmers Market on Facebook with 70 vendors and a petting farm!

The first Saturday, organizers reported that 2,500 people showed up. Ticket collectors at the front entrance collected $2 per person. Charging admission has raised a few eyebrows for those who just want to shop. It’s the only negative comments about the market I’ve heard so far.

good neighbors farmers market 004 Good Neighbors Farmers Market has become Saturday ritual

At the front gate, a display of farm equipment sets the mood. Vendors’ booths are spread out comfortably on the pine needle floor under the trees. A barn with farm stalls stands to the left. In the back are some food trucks, with several large picnic tables nearby. The relaxed atmosphere is both a market and Saturday morning getaway. I have begun a new weekly ritual to ride my bike to the market.

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Onions, shallots become borders in garden landscape

garden landscape 0 Onions, shallots become borders in garden landscape

View of the front-yard garden landscape 17 months after installation. This January morning saw frost.

In a relentless quest to make my yard produce food, I just planted onions as border grass. Fifty red onion bulbs went into the ground Saturday, lining a stone path in the front yard garden landscape that leads to a grape arbor. If my shallots-as-border-grass experiment is any indication, it will take about a couple of weeks to see shoots.

planting border Onions, shallots become borders in garden landscape

More than a year ago, my husband, Lars, and I used a landscape architect, Andy Robinson, to help us transform our thirsty front lawn into a garden landscape with paths, trellises and an arbor. You can see the garden landscape project page here. My yard yields Meyer lemons, blueberries, pineapple, olives, grapes, herbs and more to come. Andy got to know me as a gardener and had the foresight to leave open planting spaces for me to fill without compromising the design.

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