Tag Archives: compost

May To-Do List

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What a difference a month makes in a Florida spring garden!
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Look how much the bush beans have grown. You can actually make out the rows without straining. The tomatoes need staking, and many of the vegetables in the garden are starting to flower.

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Only big change here is that the daikon radishes on the left (white flowers) and the collards (yellow flowers) have more seed pods than flowers now. Still harvesting lots of kale, though. So yummy! My favorite kale recipe is here.

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Hopefully I will be eating fresh green beans soon. I have missed them so much. Until then, I am enjoying the delicate flowers on my bush bean plants.

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Do you see the baby zucchini? She’s so cute.

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The marigolds are showing their cheery little faces and the cauliflower even sent up exuberant blooms. When cauliflower is sold, it is sold as unopened flower buds, not as the yellow flowers above right.

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cauliflower plants in bloom with seedpods

The whole plant ends up being pretty massive, as seen here compared to my flip-flopped foot. The plants were given to a neighbor’s chickens. 🙂 I figured they would love pecking at all the seedpods.

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collards in bloom

Collards are in the same family as cauliflower; you can see that they look the same but they get really tall! Some of them were over 5 feet tall. The chickens got most of these too, but I kept one so it’s seeds could ripen.

So what’s on my to-do list?

1. I hope to harvest green beans, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes this month.

2. I plan to keep mulching to keep the weeds down. When I pulled up the rows of collards and cauliflower, I had very few weeds thanks to a mulch of oak leaves. For more reasons to mulch, you could read my post Why I Mulch.

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See all those leaves? My husband was so sweet to get them for my garden. Yes, I know, it looks pretty ghetto now, but I was pretty excited to see them. They should all be gone by the end of the month and my gardens will be super happy!

3. Most of my planting is done, but I would like to start more eggplant, basil, and okra. They really like the hot weather and I think it is here for us gardening in North Florida.

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Nothing like the smell of tomato leaves or the sight of vibrant tomato flowers to give this backyard gardener some hope.

Oh wait, look closely! Is that a baby tomato I see?!

What is happening in your garden? Know some gardeners in who are suffering from spring fever but still have snow? Share this post with them to encourage them that winter is not forever!

Coming soon-a post on great ways to save money in your garden!

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Florida Raised Bed Gardening (Part 1)

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Thinking about starting a garden this year? Gardening in Florida is such a worthwhile endeavor. You can get fresh air, gentle exercise, and fresh vegetables!

I have been helping a retired couple set up a raised bed in their backyard. A raised bed is a great way to start gardening.

Many like the raised bed system of gardening because they have more control over the soil. In Florida, that is important because our natural ground is so sandy.

Also, many who have raised beds use the square foot method of gardening, as developed by Mel Bartholomew (see his blog here).

The first step is to select a site. You need between 4-6 hours of sun, really 6 hours or more is best. If some afternoon shade is available, your plants will appreciate the break from our blistering Florida sun.

They selected a site in their backyard that seemed to get the most sun.

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The next step is to assemble the raised bed. Be sure to use quality wood, but be careful of using wood that has been treated with chemicals-remember, your food will be growing in this box!

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This one was made by cutting a 4×4 into 4 equal lengths for the corners, then screwing 4x1x6 boards to the corner posts.

This  raised bed framework was built years ago and was used as a compost bin until they decided to use it for a garden.

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Next, lay a layer of  cardboard or thick newspaper to smother the grass. Poke a few holes for drainage, then add a thick layer of leaves. The leaves will also help to smother weeds and will provide more organic material as they decompose.

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Finally, add a thick layer of compost, at least 6 inches. This couple had been making compost using kitchen and yard scraps and had plenty of this rich material to use. For my tutorial on how to make compost, read this post.

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Florida Raised Bed Garden

Water the garden thoroughly to settle the soil and to be sure that it is level. Water will settle in any low spots.

The next post about raised bed gardening will cover how to plan and plant your Florida raised bed garden. This couple really wants tomatoes and herbs; see what they plant in Florida Raised Bed Gardening Part 2.

 

Coffee to Compost, Literally!

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I can never have enough compost in my Florida vegetable garden. Compost is ideal for amending sandy soil, assisting in water and nutrient retention, and providing vital nutrients to plants. Compost is available for purchase, but I endeavor to produce much of what I need myself. After my first year of composting, I was so impressed by what my yard and kitchen trash turned into that I realized that I should produce much more of this black gold for my garden.

There are many approaches and methods to making compost. Some are simple, others are complicated.

The simplest method is to just pile up yard debris, let the microbes break it down, and it should be ready in about a year. Composting happens naturally; it is the natural process that breaks down dead plant and animal matter and recycles it back to be ready for plant growth. This pile-it-and-leave-it method is simple, but it takes the longest time to complete.

On the other extreme, you could carefully measure out the proportions of green(grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc.) and brown(dried leaves, straw, etc.) material, monitor the compost pile’s temperature, turn regularly, and have finished compost in a few short weeks. This is the most productive method, but also the most labor-intensive.

My three-bin composting system falls somewhere in the middle of these two.

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As you can see, my compost system is made of upcycled pallets. I add fruit and vegetable scraps from my kitchen, egg shells, coffee grounds (of course!), small weeds, plant trimmings, shredded paper, leaves, and grass clippings to my “new” pile. Starbucks gives away their coffee grounds to gardeners, so I try to grab a bag of them often. I usually turn the piles with a pitchfork once a week to circulate air and to speed up the process. During the summer, when I have access to grass clippings, I can have a large amount of finished compost within a month. During winter, I do not have as much plant material being added to the piles and so do not get compost as quickly.

Typically, one section is new materials, one is “cooking”, and the last section is finished compost.

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I avoid adding meat, bones, oils, invasive weeds(such as dollar weed), and plant matter that has been treated with an herbicide. The animal products, while technically compostable, may attract unpleasant animals. Invasive weeds may survive the composting process and be spread with the compost to my garden. Plants treated with an herbicide may retain traces of the chemical and harm my vegetables. Also, whenever I add melon rinds or fruit cores, I try to cover them so that animals aren’t attracted to the pile. Composting also occurs faster if the scraps are in smaller pieces, so I take a few extra seconds to cut banana, melon, and citrus peels into smaller chunks.

Composting is a great way to take what some might consider waste from the kitchen and yard and turn it into a valuable resource. I use mine to amend planting holes, side-dress plants, and to start seeds. Compost is the best amendment for a sandy Florida backyard garden.

If having a three-sectioned composting system intimidates you, you may be comforted by knowing that I did not start out with a three-sectioned composting system. I started composting in a plastic tote like this one.

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I drilled holes in the bottom for drainage and added my materials to the bin. I added some soil and earthworms from my backyard. Occasionally I would turn the contents. I was so impressed by the dark, rich compost that I decided that I needed to make much more, and the three section system was built. If you are thinking of starting to compost this year, you may want to start small.
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Finished compost should look like dark, rich soil. All of the original ingredients should be fully composted and it should not have an unpleasant smell. Can you see the difference in the picture between my Florida soil on the left and the rich compost on the right?

Composting is not a complicated, difficult process. Even if you just have a little garden or a small flowerbed, you can take your kitchen scraps and yard waste and turn it into a valuable addition for your Florida garden. Have you tried composting? Have you been thinking of trying it? Spring is a great time to start!

Coming soon- see how a retired couple builds a raised bed for growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers in their Florida backyard.