Fall garden planning after long, lazy summer

puzzle Fall garden planning after long, lazy summer

I took a break from gardening this summer. I let the eggplant, peppers and sweet potatoes make it on their own while I left town for 3 weeks. And instead of tending to plants, I puzzled over these 2000 pieces.

But with the temps falling below the 90s, the fall garden is my top priority. Before you know it the weather will be a crisp 70 and good for working outside.

My first task, which I did in early September, was to clear some space in my raised beds for fall vegetables. I spread compost I had been making all summer in one bed to boost its soil. Next, I sowed Texas cream peas, knowing I wanted a full harvest in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Texas cream peas are an heirloom and my mother’s favorite. I sowed two rows, about 32 plants in all. Within a week of planting, shoots appeared.

Texascreampeas Fall garden planning after long, lazy summer

Texas cream pea shoots

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Garden wedding: risks and rewards

garden wedding Garden wedding: risks and rewards

We had a wedding in my garden two weeks ago. Kale and collards witnessed the nuptials of my sister, Jill, and her groom, Jim.

When they proposed the idea in April of holding the ceremony in my backyard the garden was at its peak. Every shade of green was growing in the garden, interrupted by red pineapple sage flowers that stood out like firecrackers. Yes, of course, I said. I love for people to see the beds and all they produce. They are unconventionally beautiful in my opinion.

The ceremony would take place in the pergola next to the beds. Muscadine grape vines snake up the six pillars and over the interlacing beams. The vines were dormant when we started planning. But I knew the leaves would fill out in time to shade the 50 guests.

pergola grape leaves Garden wedding: risks and rewards

Muscadine grape leaves start to appear in first week of April.

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Salsa recipe uses garden fresh tomatoes, jalapeño

IMG 0014 Salsa recipe uses garden fresh tomatoes, jalapeño

I asked for this avalanche of tomatoes. I have no one to blame but myself. When I planted nine tomato plants, I envisioned canning salsa and tomato sauce. Well, I have made three batches — two salsa and one sauce — in the past five days and the tomatoes keep coming.

I asked my friend Kelli for her salsa recipe because it is always a crowd-pleaser. She has served it poolside at many girlfriend gatherings. I made my own batch this weekend, and predictably my family inhaled the first jarful in one sitting. I hid the other three in the pantry.

IMG 0021 Salsa recipe uses garden fresh tomatoes, jalapeño

I warn you this salsa recipe is hot but not painfully so. The blend of smoked chipotle and jalapeño peppers, cumin and chili powder provides heat while the cilantro cools it down. Here is the recipe without modification, then I’ll tell you how I made it a mild sauce for my second batch:

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Early summer garden bursts with food

The early summer garden is producing so much food that I will need to either 1) have some dinner parties or 2) start jamming and pickling like mad. Likely I will do both.

May garden 10 300x200 Early summer garden bursts with foodFor those who follow Grow Make Give, you know I started with one raised bed in the back yard about six years ago and turned my whole yard — front and back — into a Garden of Eden.

This spring I have tried many new vegetables and fruits, some of which are featured in this summer garden photo gallery. White Beauty eggplant, artichoke and pomegranate are doing well. What is really prolific, though, are my collard greens, tomatoes, Meyer lemons and lettuce. The blueberries are nearing their end after a great spring run.

My immediate task is to save some of these tomatoes for later. I’m jarring salsa this weekend. Making hot pepper jelly with the jalapeños is also on the weekend agenda. I can’t keep my mother in stock with all of her card-game entertaining.

Peruse the gallery and feel free to post pictures in the comment box of your own garden.

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Blueberry jam adds lemon basil for zest

photo 8 Blueberry jam adds lemon basil for zest

Mark’s U-pick Blueberries is in Clermont. It does not use pesticides on its plants.

Blueberry season is in full swing in Central Florida. High time to make a new batch of blueberry jam.

While my own blueberry bushes are yielding a bowl every day, I need about 6 cups to make my batch of jam. My Sunday was free, so I headed out early to Mark’s U-Pick Blueberries in Clermont. The farm has a good reputation — and it doesn’t use pesticides — so it was worth the drive to hill country.

Mark was on duty at 8 a.m. when I arrived. He pointed me to rows of Sharp Blues, an old variety of Florida berries that are scarce these days. The six-foot high bushes were loaded. And I had the farm practically to myself. I set to work and filled a bucket with four pounds of berries in about 90 minutes.

photo 7 Blueberry jam adds lemon basil for zest

Back home, I took the stems off the berries and mulled what flavors I would pair with the blueberries in this batch of jam. Sage? No, I do that with blackberries. I wanted an herb from my garden. Mint was a candidate. So was thyme. Then I remembered my lone lemon-basil plant. That had real possibilities.

I typically use lemon zest and lemon juice in my blueberry jam, but my Meyer lemons are green right now. I have several limequats that needed to be eaten, so I would use those instead. Limequats are a hybrid of key limes and kumquats, reputed to have originated in Lake County near Mark’s U-pick farm.

I adapted my Spiced Blueberry Lemon Jam recipe and made this scrumptious delight:

photo 6 Blueberry jam adds lemon basil for zest

Blueberry Lemon Basil Jam 

(Makes five 8 oz. jars)

  • 6 cups blueberries
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup Stevia in the Raw (or you could do sugar. I substituted to cut calories)
  • 1/4 cup limequat juice (or lemon juice)
  • 2 tsp. grated and chopped limequat zest (or lemon zest)
  • 10 lemon basil leaves, mashed and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • Cheese cloth and twine for lemon basil packet

Follow the directions of my Spiced Blueberry Lemon recipe with the following addition:

Mash the lemon basil leaves with a spoon or mortar and pestle to release the flavor. Then chop them and put them into the cheese cloth. Tie up the four corners with twine. Add the packet to your berry mixture during the 10-minute cooking process. Stir often. Remove the packet after the berry mixture is ready. Continue with the canning process outlined in the Spiced Blueberry Lemon recipe.

Prepare to be delighted. The lemon basil and kumquat flavors enhance the blueberries but do not detract. I spread mine on a shortbread cookie for a taste test. I ate it before I could take a picture. I spread another. Snap. Spread. Eat. Repeat.

blueberryjam Blueberry jam adds lemon basil for zest

U-Pick blueberry farms in Central Florida are open now and through most of June. At Mark’s U-Pick, he has varieties that bloom later so he will stay open through July. It is best to call ahead before you head out to confirm any U-Pick is open that day. Hours and days vary depending on the availability of the berries.

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Garden wedding in the works

photo 2 Garden wedding in the works

My sister is getting married in my garden. Well, not in the raised beds but in the pergola next to the garden, which right now has a full spring collection of kale, collard greens, tomatoes, green beans, sage and cucumbers. I was honored she and her fiance chose my favorite retreat for their garden wedding. But it does pose a dilemma.

It is in full rapturous bloom right now. What will it look like in June? Should I plant some flowers in the beds or let the vegetables be the decorative backdrop? To me, vegetables are beautiful but not everyone appreciates them. Even I admit tomato plants look messy.

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Best tip for growing tomatoes: use manure!

IMG 4586 1024x819 Best tip for growing tomatoes: use manure!

Here is my best tip for growing tomatoes, one that has me running out to the garden daily to check on their growth: grow your tomato plants in manure. Run to your gardening center and get a few bags of Black Kow, spread it in a full-sun spot, stick your tomato plant in the manure and watch it take off.

My friend and gardening pal, Mary Frances, gave me that advice this winter as I enviously watched her harvesting bunches of tomatoes from her fall planting. My own results were mixed. I did ok with cherry tomatoes but had almost given up on growing full-size tomatoes. My plants were not that productive, yielding just a few of the fruit. I was using top soil with compost in my raised beds.

spring garden march 2 014 Best tip for growing tomatoes: use manure!

Jalapenos, front row, and tomatoes in back with cages.

On the first weekend in March, I spread 3 bags of Black Kow manure, and 3 more bags of my nursery’s own mix of manure and compost in my raised beds. I planted one 3-inch transplant each of Yellow Boy, Mr. Stripey, Husky Cherry Red, and Black Krimm.

Eight weeks later, look at the comparison growth chart:

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GMO OMG food debate comes to Orlando

Claire Berries farmer GMO OMG food debate comes to Orlando On a recent farm tour organized by my county, one farmer’s impassioned defense of GMO seeds and big corporate farms raised more than a few eyebrows. We are “feeding the world,” the blueberry and citrus grower declared defiantly to the 75 or so gathered to hear him speak. One young mother muttered “I’m outta here,” and made a hasty exit with her children.

She wasn’t the only one who left. I stayed. I like to hear differing points of view. His support of genetically modified food was in sharp contrast to the small organic family farm we had just visited an hour before.

As a gardener and person interested in our food chain, I want to learn more about the GMO debate. I will hear one side this Friday night at East End Market in Orlando. The foodie market is hosting a screening for a documentary, GMO OMG, and a panel discussion.

Screen Shot 2014 04 19 at 10.22.32 PM GMO OMG food debate comes to Orlando

Documentary screening and panel discussion at East End Market.

Based on the film title, I don’t expect it to represent Big Ag’s side. In fact, a New Yorker reviewer eviscerated GMO OMG for being alarmist and not talking to scientists who say GMO food is safe. Still I am drawn to the event. Tickets are available for $20, which includes non-GMO appetizers. Continue reading

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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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