Garden beds get fall vegetables

fall garden 007 Garden beds get fall vegetables

Southern heirloom Texas cream peas sprout a week after planting.

For Floridians sweating in 95-degree heat, it takes an act of faith to plant a fall vegetable garden now. However, early September is the time to plant your garden beds with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, peas, beans, cucumbers and corn. It is also time to refresh your herb garden and start cooler weather plants from seeds.

However, before planting I tend to my soil. My compost bins have been converting yard trash and kitchen scraps at an amazing clip this summer. If you don’t compost yet, here are 5 steps for getting started. Garden centers also sell it, but I prefer to make my own compost to reduce waste. Last week I worked a bin’s worth of compost into the soil, loosening my planting area to give roots an easy path.

I have been planting a few vegetables a week, slowly clearing out the summer crop of Malabar spinach that overtook my raised beds. Last week I direct sowed Texas cream peas. It is a Southern bush pea that my mother’s family grew. Although I had to hunt for the seeds, I found them online at, and bought enough to share with my mother and another Southerner who appreciates heirlooms. The plants are already showing in the garden. I had to water them almost every day for a week to make sure they germinated in the high heat.

fall garden 005 Garden beds get fall vegetables

Swiss chard claims a partially shaded spot in the raised bed.

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May garden: what’s growing

photo 39 001 May garden: whats growing

Blueberries picked fresh from the front yard.

I will remember my 2013 May garden for its bumper crop of blueberries. The 17 bushes in the front yard produced enough berries to fill a cup almost every morning for breakfast. The backyard gardens produced salad for my lunches, too — mesclun, arugula and endive lettuces; sugar snap peas and an occasional small tomato when I was quick enough to save it from a poaching critter.

All except the tomatoes are about finished by the end of May. Summer vegetables and fruit are coming up behind them to take their places.

may garden 2013 014 May garden: whats growing

This year I trained a cucumber plant to climb a trellis along my garden path. It saves space growing them vertically whereas last year the vines covered half of my 8×4-foot raised bed. I’m always looking for ways to expand my growing spaces so I can add more variety to my diet.

may garden 2013 017 May garden: whats growing

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How to keep birds away from your food

I learned a cool trick from farmers about how to keep birds away from your garden. It involves no chemicals, no nets and no shotguns. But I did have to sacrifice a long-forgotten taped episode of “Charmed.” Let me explain.

tape on blueberry bushes 001 How to keep birds away from your food

How to keep birds away from your berry bushes

I have 17 blueberry bushes in my front yard garden that are full of blueberries. They are just now beginning to ripen. I know I could throw bird nets over them except that may draw attention in my HOA-regulated neighborhood. (Read here for the tortured but ultimately happy ending of my garden landscape battle.) I was mentioning this to some farmer friends, and they suggested I tie strips of VHS tape onto the bushes.

The slightest wind makes the tape flutter, resembling a black snake. I guess birds don’t have very good eyes. The farmers said it saved their mulberry crop. I think it would work for blackberry and raspberries, too.

As it happens, I have a few old VHS tapes stashed away in a cabinet. After checking to make sure I didn’t mistakenly sacrifice the wedding video or my son’s college football highlights, I struck gold with an old “Charmed” episode. Mothers of teen-age boys need no explanation for why the TV show was taped in the first place.

tape on blueberry bushes 003 How to keep birds away from your food

First: Smash a VHS casing and take out the tape.

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Fall Garden Tips for Winter Harvest


Butternut squash Fall Garden Tips for Winter Harvest

Butternut squash is tiny now but will be ready for harvest in two months.

October 1 is a milestone date on the Florida gardening calendar. It is the traditional day to plant fall and winter vegetables, the ones that can take a frost and are better for it. It takes faith planting for the fall when the temperature is forecast for 91 degrees today. And yet I do it, anticipating the Brussels sprouts, broccoli, greens and cauliflower that will fill the table in a few months.

This year I have more space than ever to grow food. I have my two raised garden beds in the backyard, new beds alongside a path Lars made last month, several empty pots for herbs, and a new edible landscape in the front yard. It is not too late to prepare your own plot or build a raised garden. My friend Alan is building an 8′ x 4′ bed this weekend using landscape timbers and our simple plan.

thyme Cuban oregano Fall Garden Tips for Winter Harvest

Thyme (foreground) and Cuban oregano do well in pots alongside backyard raised beds.











If you don’t do anything else this fall, plant a few herbs in pots to liven up your fall meals. Rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano are my go-to herbs. We cut them fresh for soups, meats, sauces and sauteed vegetables.Today I am planting some herbs from seed I have never tried before. Caraway, leeks, anise-hyssop, borage and chervil will enter the Anderson garden for the first time. A recent visit to the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home and garden, inspired me. His estate garden has more than 450 varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Monticello Fall Garden Tips for Winter Harvest

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello inspired me to expand my garden vegetables and herbs.


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Blueberries at home in Florida landscape

Windsor Palmetto blueberry bushes Blueberries at home in Florida landscape

Windsor blueberry bushes (foreground) and Palmetto (background) are southern highbush varieties.











The dream of having a garden landscape in my front yard started with a more simple idea of growing blueberries. I had read a book by Jim Minick, “The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family,” and I wanted that life. Lars nixed the idea of leaving the suburbs to move to a farm so I started plotting the next best thing.

Now I have 17 blueberry bushes. They are Southern highbush cultivars, the Emerald and Windsor developed by the University of Florida blueberries program, and the Palmetto offered by the University of Georgia. The trio are my prizes of the front yard landscape although I don’t tell that to my other edibles.

Before my landscaper, Andy Robinson, planted anything we had the soil tested. The 4.7 pH acidic soil was already perfect for blueberry growing. We made it even better by adding compost with pine bark, which blueberries also love.

Windsor blueberry bush Blueberries at home in Florida landscape

The Windsor blueberry bush in the foreground produces berries between mid-April and mid-May.











The varieties we chose need each other for cross-pollination to thrive, according to the UF and UGA gardeners guides. The bushes will bloom in mid-February and produce berries between mid-April and mid-May. All three varieties are heavy producers. If I keep the birds away, the bushes should yield anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds each. I’ll be making a lot of spiced blueberry jam.

According to the guides, the bushes need at least 4 hours of sun per day and light watering. My front yard irrigation system is set for each plant and doesn’t water unless it is necessary. I am sure they will need less water than the hated St. Augustine grass I replaced.

pineapple plants Blueberries at home in Florida landscape

The pineapple plants are a bromeliad.











The edible landscape installation is nearing completion. This past week, the work crew planted the pineapple plants and plumbego bushes, finished the front steps, painted the posts, mulched the yard; and improved rainwater drainage from the roof by laying rocks along the house perimeter.

This week, they need to plant a pecan tree; hang two large trellises for blackberry and raspberry vines on a side garage wall near the front door; hang an iron gate at the front of the cobblestone path; install a grape arbor and fence leading to the side yard; and lay a few strips of grass. I know I have said this before, but the landscape installation is almost complete.

Except it’s never finished. And as a gardener, that’s a thrilling thought.

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Spring garden grows enough veggies to bypass grocery produce

late April garden Spring garden grows enough veggies to bypass grocery produce

Two raised beds produce enough vegetables to feed the family, with some left over for friends.

Two months into spring gardening, the bounty is starting to pile up. In fact, some of the early spring vegetables are almost spent and the next wave will go into the beds.

Florida’s weather has held steady in the mid-60s to mid-80s, only getting cold once when it dipped to 44 earlier this week. As a result of the mild temperatures, the spring crop is flourishing.

cukes Spring garden grows enough veggies to bypass grocery produce

The first batch of cucumbers will become bread and butter pickles.

Cucumbers are ready for the first pickling. I’ll start with my grandmother’s bread and butter pickle recipe on Sunday.

The Romaine and red lettuce bolted this week while I was in Chicago. I’ve started giving it away to neighbors and friends and will finish that off tomorrow too. I’m still contemplating what will take its place in the bed. Okra is the leading contender.

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Garden Chat: Desire for healthy food sparks a new hobby

Doreen Garden Chat: Desire for healthy food sparks a new hobby

Doreen gardens for relaxation but she also likes saving money on organic produce.

This is the second in a regular series of chats with gardeners about what they are growing, what they have learned, and what tips they want to share.

Doreen T. lives in a town in Zone 9 north of Orlando, Florida. She started gardening about 18 months ago, clearing about 200 square feet in the corner of her backyard.

welcome sign Garden Chat: Desire for healthy food sparks a new hobbyGrowmakegive: Why did you start gardening?

Doreen: I started because I thought it would not only be fun and a good hobby, but because I like having my own fresh produce and control what’s on it. I like to know what I’m eating. And find it very relaxing to go out there every day.

What’s in your spring garden?

Cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, a heat-tolerant tomato, carrots, spaghetti squash, a variety of peppers, Malabar spinach, garlic, several herbs, Romaine lettuce, butterleaf lettuce, blueberries, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant and sweet potatoes.

Pretty soon the whole backyard will be a garden.

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Flowers and vegetables go together in the garden



flowers in garden 012 Flowers and vegetables go together in the garden

Marigolds placed throughout the garden help keep away bugs.











I planted flowers in my vegetable garden this weekend. Granted, the weather was so beautiful with a high in the 80s, I may have been looking for ways to extend my gardening time. Still, planting certain flowers with vegetables has proven gardening benefits.


flowers in garden 027 Flowers and vegetables go together in the garden

Marigolds provide color for the garden and act as bug repellants.


Marigolds are known for keeping away the bad bugs. I placed eight of them strategically around the edges of my raised beds. The yellow and orange flowers contrast nicely with the greens of cucumber, spinach, oregano and fennel.

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How to make DIY tomato cage

old new cages1 How to make DIY tomato cage

My DIY tomato cage, left, vs last season's wreck of a cage.











My store-bought tomato cages were no match for my big and heavy tomato plants. You would think steel would stand up to plant, but it turns out the cages were the spindly ones.

When I pulled the spent tomato plants and cages out of the garden at the end of last season, the cages were bent and broken. It’s a wonder the plants stayed upright at all. The welding had come apart where the rings met the poles, and the poles were splayed. I had to do something different this season. And I had to do it quickly, because my new tomato plants were growing fast.

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How to keep cutworms from chewing your plants

cup collar How to keep cutworms from chewing your plants

Cups prevent cutworms from crawling up plant trunks to chew leaves.











My biggest nemesis in the garden is the cutworm. In seasons past, this insect has chewed my Swiss chard so badly that the leaves resembled Swiss cheese. It has eaten other leaves — tomatoes,  collard greens, lettuce, mustard greens — leading me to use a natural biological insecticide, Bacillus Thuringiensis, to try to stop it

It works, but my family was leery of the white dust on the plants even though I washed it off thoroughly after harvest. And dusts are harmful to pollinators. Finally, I tried a different method that I treated skeptically at first but works beautifully:

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