Category Archives: Garden Tips

Mixing Vegetables and Flowers for Winter Color

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My poor flowerbed looks pretty bleak in the winter. After our first frost, not much is green except the day lilies.

So, this fall, I am planning to plant snapdragons in that flowerbed, along with some herbs and leafy vegetables.

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I saw this display of snapdragons and pansies last spring and it sparked a determination to have some of my own. Seeing something like this from my kitchen window would certainly make doing the dishes much more pleasant!

So, right now I’m considering snapdragons and Swiss chard for color, curly kale for green, and potted herbs for structure. Maybe some lime green Bibb lettuce too?

Keeping the herbs in pots also gives me the option of tucking them indoors in case of a nasty freeze.

What do you think? Can you think of any other vegetables or flowers that I should add? What survives the cold for you? I’d love to hear your suggestions and ideas!

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Have You Started Your Fall Garden Yet?

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Have you dreamed of starting a garden but been discouraged by lack of knowledge or experience?

Please don’t be intimidated by gardening. Now is a great time to start a little garden and to see if you like it. Florida fall and winter gardens are a wonderful place to start: the temperatures are cooler and the bugs are fewer.

If you really want to just try a little garden and just have a little time; buy a pack of collard or kale transplants for a few dollars, then poke them in the ground in a sunny spot. With just a minimum of care, you can harvest the outer leaves as soon as they are large enough and enjoy multiple harvests until the heat returns.

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I am still harvesting peppers from my spring garden, but am now beginning to harvest green beans from my fall garden.

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Turnips and mustard have sprouted! I’m trying ‘White Egg’ turnips this year.

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My collard, kale, and  Bibb lettuce starts are looking great!  I’m glad I decided to try Swiss chard again, I’m thinking of mixing this pretty vegetable with some snapdragons in the garden.

I am ready for beautiful salads and for my favorite kale recipe!

Many of these starts are ready to go into the garden. With the cooler temperatures, it’s the perfect time to get them adjusted and to clear off my pallet potting bench.

Are you ready to take the plunge and try a garden? Fall is a great time to garden in North Florida!

Do you have questions about starting a fall garden? Please ask, I’d love to help!

Do you have other suggestions for super-easy fall crops? Kale and collards are my top 2 easy crops, but I’d love to hear your favorites below. We can all help each other-the gardening community is so friendly!

Let’s get growing!

Preserving the Basil Harvest: Frozen Pesto vs. Dried Flakes

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Preserving the Basil Harvest: Frozen Pesto vs. Dried Flakes

 

I love the smell of fresh basil!

It is one of the wonderful smells of summer, but how can one keep basil’s pungency for winter sauces and dishes?

My favorite way to preserve basil is to make pesto, then to freeze it.

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The only ingredients in my pesto are fresh basil leaves, garlic, and enough olive oil to make a paste. I blend these together, then freeze the pesto in ice cube trays or in one cup measurements ( for pesto pasta).

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When I am making spaghetti sauce, I just add a cube or two of the basil pesto toward the end of the cooking time. If you like to add pine nuts to your pesto dishes, you can do so when you actually make the pasta dish.

This would also make a yummy dip- let thaw, drizzle with more olive oil, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and kosher salt, and serve with crusty French bread- yummy!

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Dried basil is nice to have on hand too; I just dried mine on a cookie sheet in the oven. I never actually turned the oven on for it, but I was sure to put it back in immediately after I had baked. It made the house smell like basil and slow-dried the leaves at the same time.

Did you grow basil this year? Have you tried making pesto with it or do you prefer to dry it?

Are Sweet Potato Leaves Edible?

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If you grew sweet potatoes this year, you probably have a massive tangle of vines overtaking your garden. Those sweet potato vines, in addition to being one of the crops that thrive in Florida summers, can be a tasty addition to the dinner table.

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If  you grow greens like kale and collards, you probably know that they are cool weather crops that tend to bolt as temperatures rise. Not to worry, sweet potato greens can take their place!

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I like to snip some leaves and saute with olive oil and garlic, much like I do with kale. It is delicious served as a side dish, much like spinach.

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Try not to harvest ALL your leaves, though, be sure to leave some to produce food to be stored in the sweet potatoes!

I think that I will have to try some in an omelet soon; starting kale seeds for my fall garden is reminding me of how much I miss kale with my eggs!

Have you ever eaten sweet potato leaves? If so, how do you prepare them? If not, would you be brave enough to try them? Let me know what you think!

Sweet potato vines aren’t the only green in my garden, the basil is still growing. Time to preserve some basil!

You Know You Have a Good Friend When…

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You know you have a good friend when she not only cares about you, but she also cares about the worms in your compost! Not every non-gardener would risk looking like a composting maniac to grab some coffee grounds. 🙂

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The Starbucks near me has a special basket for used coffee grounds, but there must be a lot of composting maniacs in my area as I seldom see grounds in it.

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I am happy to have a friend who is willing to grab some grounds for me! 🙂

Do you take advantage of Starbucks’ free grounds? Do you have another source for additional composting materials? I’d love to hear about it!

Top 5 Flowers for North Florida

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Top 5 Flowers for North Florida

My vegetable garden makes for a happy tummy, but flowers are happiness for the eyes.

If I could only have five types of flowrs in my yard, I’d pick these.

It’s hard for me to pick a #1 favorite, though. I love the cheery exuberance of my zinnias, but would I pick them over the beneficial marigolds? Fortunately, I don’t have to choose, and I wedge them into my vegetable and flower gardens alike.

Here are my favorite 5. If I had to start over with a new yard, I’d start with these.

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1. Zinnia

They come  in a bazillion colors and  sizes and grow well from seed. They keep well in a vase and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Annual.

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2. Marigold

Reputed to repel nematode and other pests, marigold are a pretty and useful addition to a vegetable garden. Last year I grew some from some cheapo seeds, then saved so many seeds that I stored them in a spice container with large holes. This spring, I pretty much just sprinkled them where I wanted them to grow. Annual.

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3. Vinca

Gotta have vinca. They are a common landscaping plant for a good reason. These hardly flowers boom their little hearts out all summer. They reseed themselves quite well, and come in varying shades of white, pink, and lavender. I was so excited to find a blue vinca earlier this year too.They need no special watering or fertilizing and flourish even when neglected. I have a patch of them growing in front of my house. They are surrounded by a concrete porch and brick walkway and grow in poor, sandy soil. I planted a landscaper’s flat of 18 about 5 years ago, and thry have reseeded themselves in that spot ever since and have provided extra plants and seeds for other spots as well. Annual.

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4. Daylily

This is one of the earliest bloomers for me in the spring. The green and cheerful yellow are such mood-boosters after a chilly February. Supposedly the flowers are edible, but so far I have valued their happy colors more than their value as a food source. Perennial.

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5. Knockout Rose

My list would not be complete without this landscaping rose. No, its flowers are less than impressive, and scent is lacking, but it adds a welcome splash of color for very little effort. It blooms until the frosts come. One year, I had Christmas lights on the bushes. The white lights looked so lovely with the hot pink blooms. Perennial.

There are other honorable mentions: lantana, yarrow, crocosmia, Shasta daisies, tornia and mums. What do you think of my top 5? Did I include any of your favorites?

Raising Chickens 101

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Do you have chickens? I have a friend who has a flock of backyard chickens, and she asked me to care for them for a few days. It was a little exciting at times-she has 8 biddies, 2 medium-sized chickens(do they have a special name too?), and 6 full grown chickens. It was a neat experience to see them and to see what was involved in their care.

I have been considering getting chickens for my backyard. They could help me by eating kitchen scraps, producing manure, and even clearing areas for gardening. From what I know, they seem to be ideal garden helpers.

Have you been thinking about getting chickens? If you are in the Pensacola/Pace/Milton area, there will be a session on August 9 at the Pace Library about chickens. You don’t need to make a reservation; just show up at 9:30 am.

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According to their flyer, there will be information about what kind of breed to get, what you’ll need to take care of them, and how to find out if you are even permitted to own them at your home.

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Chickens seem to be a great addition to a household, especially if you have a garden too.

Do you have chickens? Are you glad that you have them or do you regret getting them?

What Should I do with Green Tomatoes?

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As I pulled up my tomato plants, I harvested some green tomatoes.

I have some large green tomatoes, so I’m considering making fried green tomatoes.

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However, the little ones have me stumped. I was given the idea by my husband’s grandpa to pickle them. I do have some pickle juice left from when I made my easy dill pickles, so I did try that.

However, I’m sure that I will have more green tomatoes.

Any ideas?

 

How to Save Your Lettuce, Radish, and Broccoli Seeds Like a Ninja

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Fresh lettuce has so much flavor! I grew some Bibb Buttercrunch lettuce from some free seeds. I really liked the taste and I want to grow it again, so I let it bolt, or go to seed.

The problem with lettuce seeds is that they are small and often stick to remnants of the flower and fluff.

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One way to save the seeds is to wait and let the stalks dry out, then crinkle the seed heads in your hands to release the seeds.

I didn’t want to wait.

I had a crazy idea.

What if I stuck the seed heads in my Ninja (food processor) for a bit??

So I tried it.

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It separated the chaff from the seeds quite well! I gently blew the chaff off the top and ta da! I was a little afraid that I would end up with lettuce seed puree but I didn’t. 🙂

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Look at that-enough lettuce seeds to grow salad for all my neighbors. And their rabbits.

My brain kept thinking.

If this could be done with lettuce seeds, I wondered, what about those tough seedpods from my daikon radishes and broccoli?

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It worked quite well for the daikon radishes. Just a second or two of the food processor and the seed pods had released the seeds.

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Separating broccoli seeds was a snap.

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I’m so excited about free seeds! I have an entire post on how I get free seeds, and saving seeds from your own garden is one of the ways to get them. I also have a post with more money-saving garden tips.

So what do you think of this method of saving lettuce seeds? Or do you think that this method is crazy?  Do you know of anyone else who saves seeds this way? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Propagating Torenia (Wishbone Flower) from Cuttings – More Free Plants!

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Torenia

Florida summers can be so hard on flowering plants. By mid-July, my tomato and cucumber plants are declining rapidly, succumbing to old age and oppressive humidity. Torenia continues to bloom heartily, even in North Florida’s hot and humid summers. It is easy to propagate too.

I am going to use the same technique that I have used on mint, basil, and tomato cuttings: rooting in water.

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Cleanly remove some cuttings, them remove the leaves that will be below the water or soil line. Leaves submerged in the water will decompose. Yuck.

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Soon you will see white roots begin to grow. Most likely the roots will first appear at the nodes, or places where the leaves or branches grew from the main stalk.
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Once they have a good start on a root system, they can be planted in a pot of homemade compost or potting soil. There you are-new plant for free!

Baby the new plant for a few days, then you can put it in your garden.

For more tutorials on how to get free plants, you can read my Buy 2, Get 3 Free Tomato Plants post, or Have a Mint? Make Another Mint! You can also read about plant division in my post about sharing oregano with my brother.

Of course, a favorite money-saving post is How I Get Free Seeds.

Gardening is as expensive or as inexpensive as you make it.

What about you? Have you ever divided or rooted a plant before? Be careful, it can be addictive!

Be watching for an update on the monster tomato plant from the Florida raised bed garden and for pictures of some deadly pearly studs. Yes, some accessories can kill you! Any guesses about what the deadly pearly studs can be? Some of you may have seen them in your garden. Do you need another hint or can some of you gardeners already guess what they are?