Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lime basil

Lime basil took over my early lettuce rows. I'd grown it here last year and now I know that it's an abundant reseeder. I'd let it grow since early September when I set up these 2 rows, but now it was time to give the lettuce and the beets more room.
Abundant harvest of lime basil! I shared some with 2
new neighbors and then made a pesto with the rest of it.
The standard sweet Italian basil doesn't do well here with our hot, humid summers. It is prone to various wilt and fungal diseases, which forces growers to harvest it early. So on a whim I bought some lime basil seed from Burpee Seeds a couple of years ago. It not only makes it through the summers, it also reseeds, so it's unlikely that I'll need to purchase more seed any time soon.

The taste really does have a distinct lime overtone. I use it in the same as I do for regular basil, but since its flavor is strong, there are some dishes that I have learned to use less of it.

So this happened...

I planted an early crop of lettuce, beets, and a few white radishes at the beginning of September. It was a little too early for the lettuces and only a few seeds germinated, but the lime basil, which had been planted in this bed the year before loved the new planting rows and volunteered there.

When it became obvious that the lettuce crop would be lacking, I planted some more seed, but I left the basil in place. Well, the basil took over the whole area, as you can see in the top photo, so it was time to give the lettuce some light and room. I did not want to disturb the roots, so I cut off the stalks just above ground level and this made for an abundant harvest. I gave half of it away to two new neighbors and made pesto with the other half. In this pesto, I used equal amounts of garlic chives and basil—in addition to the onion and other ingredients. (You can see how I make pesto in my post: A field trip, A Florida native plant hero, & a pasta salad.) This time I used about a third of the pesto for a Mediterranean pasta salad and I froze the rest.

Now, the lettuce and other crops have more room to grow. Some lettuce, like the black-seeded Simpson have been mostly harvested. A week after cutting off the lime basil, it is already sprouting, but frost will kill it in December. 
These containers of pesto will allow us to enjoy this harvest when there is no fresh basil available from the garden.

I love the loose leaf salad blend. So pretty and so tasty. I had already harvested some of the red butter leaf  lettuce leaves from the outside of the plant, but you can hardly tell. Some oakleaf lettuce is making a good start for a later. harvest

One parsley plant left from last year's crop. Normally, this is a biennial and takes 2 years to complete its life cycle, but here in north Florida, our season is so long that parsley sets flowers in the same season as it is planted. But this one plant that was grown in a container did not, so now I have a little fresh parsley to use early in the season. My new crop has sprouted, but it will be a couple of months before it's established enough for picking.
We don't have any citrus plants in our yard, but many of our neighbors have too much. Ample Harvest is a matching service for people who have too much of a good thing with organizations that can use the surplus. How sustainable!

Time to turn the compost pile

With all the fall leaf supply, it was time to turn the compost pile. Looking from pile B toward pile A. The okra stalks have not rotted in the compost pile A yet, but they will.
With the abundance of fallen leaves, it was time to turn the pile. Besides, the old pile was almost cleaned out and I needed the compost from the bottom of pile A (near the shed). I scraped the rest of the compost from pile B (near the cement pad) and put it in the old wheel barrow. I laid in about 6" of raked leaves for the floor, and added alternating layers of 1) unfinished compost from pile A, 2) raked leaves, and 3) thin dusting of finished compost from the wheelbarrow. After the finished compost layer I poured a watering can of rain barrel water.

Since the turning, I've added a layer of kitchen scraps and more leaves. I will continue to add layers of alternating green and brown materials until the end of the year and then let it rest until spring when the whole process will begin again.

As expected at the bottom of the pile A, there was a good supply of moist, rich, finished compost. I'm using this compost to enrich the winter veggies beds (which you can see in the above photos), store some of it in a bin (next to the potting bench) for winter use, and use the rest of it to topdress my recently planted woody plants and others that I want to push a little more. While I never put amendments in the planting holes, a layer of compost laid outside the root ball area several times during the first couple of years after planting will entice the trees' roots to grow outward. Wide-spreading roots make plants more wind-tolerant and more drought tolerant and this is important in Florida where we have and 7-month dry season each year and tropical storms on a regular basis.

Native flowers

Oh my! It's hard to beat the dune sunflowers for beauty and durability. This one is part of our mailbox planting. This one plant has spread across the whole bed and has lasted for 3 years. I trim it back to keep it within its boundaries and use those cuttings to make new plants.

Our state wildflower!

I renewed my membership in the Florida Wildflower Foundation and they sent me seeds with my new card. I've sowed these seeds in a meadow area and look forward to seeing more of these cheerful tickseed flowers in the spring.

I trust that you are enjoying your fall gardening.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

A beautiful sunrise as reflected in the St. Johns River. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beautyberry bread

Gathering the berries. I used only the ones at the ends of the branches because they
are the last to ripen.

I robbed the birds!

Many birds feast on our beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) including mockingbirds, catbirds, and cardinals.  So I felt guilty removing even one cup of their winter berry supplies, even though I have a dozen bushes plus more berries on the wax myrtles. But I saw a recipe for beautyberry cake in Peggy Lantz's new book, Florida's Edible Wild Plants and wanted to try it. I tasted a few berries right off the bush. They were fairly bland and only slightly sweet.

It didn't take long to gather the 1 cup of berries...
I modified Peggy's recipe to fit with the ingredients that I had on hand and added nuts and sunflower seeds to make it more of a bread.


1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup old fashion oatmeal (Peggy used wheatgerm)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (Instead of the vanilla and nutmeg, she used ground ginger root)
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (Peggy used honey and molasses)
1/4 cup hot water
1 cup beautyberries, washed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, roasted and shelled

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease one 9" x 5" loaf pan. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, in a separate bowl mix the eggs, sugar, oil and hot water, add the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients, and then fold in the beautyberries, nuts and seeds. Pour batter into the pan and bake for 40 minutes or until the bread cracks on top.

Verdict: The bread was dark, moist, and quite tasty. Both my husband and I liked it, but neither of us could really taste  beautyberries in the bread and wouldn't know they were there except for getting occasional seeds stuck in our teeth. It's sorta like carrot cake where you can't really figure out where the carrots went, but you can still count it as a serving of vegetables anyway. :-)

The bread is beautiful: as it should be. Hot out of the oven, the pat of butter melts readily. For
subsequent slices, we'll zap them in the microwave for 45 seconds.

Out and about...

A Muscovy duck and a large brood in a Chick fil-A parking lot. Hey what's in those sandwiches anyway?

A mound of mushrooms at the foot of a live oak tree is beautiful in the morning light.

Root beer anyone?? How's this for a catbriar tuber? We were clearing an overgrown area at the edge of the elevated drainfield for the septic system. The catbriar (Smilax ssp.) vines were as thick as my thumb, so I knew there was a tuber, but I did not expect one this big.

The other day, the skies were filled with a wide variety of cloud types. Beautiful.
October is supposed to be one of our 5 wet months, but the dry season has started early this year with not only no rain, but also record heat. We only received 1/2 an inch of rain early in the month and none since then. (The 30-year average rainfall in October for our area is 3.86".)  Don't forget to water your winter vegetables and if you've planted new trees and shrubs this year, be sure to give them extra irrigation as we move into winter so they'll get a good start on their spring leaves.

And most important, vote green and YES to Florida's Amendment #1.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gardeners know when to "fold"

Gardeners are gamblers

We plant seeds or seedlings and we bet that we'll end up with a bountiful harvest, but it doesn't always happen that way. So when a crop is in distress, we need to yank it out and move on to something else. Case in point: our fall cucumber crop that I talked about last time. We had a pretty good harvest of 20 or so crispy cukes, but the vines got hit with a blight, so it was time to pull them out even though there were small fruits coming along and frost will not come until late December. The vines would not be able to overcome this fungus, and the longer you leave an ailing plant in the garden, the more likely it is to leave tainted soil behind. So I pulled the vines, gathered all the fallen leaves, and put them out with the yard trash. I never put diseased plants in the compost. We have to know when to fold, just like the old gambler...
"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
"Know when to walk away and know when to run..."

Even though there were more cukes coming, I ripped them out. Fall blight...

Eat your seeds!

Eat the seeds!
We enjoyed a lovely acorn squash for dinner the other night and I also prepared the seeds for eating.
Separate from the squash flesh, cook for 10 minutes in about a half an inch of salted water, and then place the seed/saltwater slurry on a cookie sheet to dry. I turn my oven to 300 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn it off, leaving the seeds in the warm oven for an hour. You can also dry the seeds in the hot afternoon sun. Of course, this is also fun to do with pumpkin seeds, which you may have on hand very soon.
Add a little salt to about 1/2 an inch of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the seeds onto a cookie sheet or pizza pan. Put in a cold oven, turn the heat to 300 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn off. After an hour, delicious seeds to eat.

Snags are so important for bluebirds and other wildlife.


Snags, stumps, and logs

Whenever possible leave this deadwood in your landscape to provide food and shelter for bluebirds and other wildlife.

I covered this in my upcoming book, "The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape." Marjorie Shropshire, my excellent illustrator, created a lovely drawing to illustrate the concept.

I turned in all the drawings and their captions into University Press of Florida this week. This was the last piece of the puzzle; I'd already turned in the final draft, the color photos and captions, the B&W photos and captions, and a collection of possible cover photos, so now the ball is in their court. Yay!

I hope you are enjoying the excellent gardening weather. Just remember, if you are planting trees or shrubs that this is the beginning of our dry season and extra irrigation will be needed for the best success.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Sunrise this morning. How can you not love Florida sunrises?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cole crops

Don't plant too many cabbages at one time.
While they are easy enough to grow, do you and
your family need 20 of these beauties all at once?

Do you know cabbage?

Cole crops are all the cabbage crops derived from a single species of Brassica oleracea. (Kohl is the German word for cabbage.)

The cultivars are divided into seven or eight major groups (depending upon the authority) that are grouped according to form.
-Acephala group--kale, collard greens and ornamental cabbages.
-Alboglabra group--Chinese broccoli and obscure pot herbs.
-Botrytis group--cauliflower, broccoli and broccoflower
-Capitata group--cabbages: red, green and Savoy
-Gemmifera group--Brussels sprouts
-Gongylodes group--kohlrabi (German for cabbage apple)
-Italica group--Italian broccoli, sprouting broccoli, purple cauliflower. This group includes the looser headed varieties.
-Tronchuda group--tronchuda kale and cabbage, Portuguese kale, braganza.

This is probably more than you wanted to know, but there it is and now you know why a cabbage salad is called cole slaw.

The main curd of broccoli is only the start... Leave the plant in place for...
come-again broccoli for the rest of the season. Cabbages can grow back after harvesting or
like this plant grown from a cabbage heart.

While we are waiting for the winter crops, we are enjoying the
fall cucumbers, sugar snap peas and the last of the okra..
Organic Methods for Vegetable
 Gardening in Florida

Now is the time to start your fall/winter crops in Florida.

Cole crops are only one group of plants to start now, you can also start lettuces, beets, chards, carrots, dill, and more. For more details, buy the book.

I'm a tree hugger, for sure!

Tree hugger!

In case it hasn't been obvious, I have been a tree hugger my whole life, so I will be voting "YES" on Florida's Amendment #1 in November. Monies that had been set aside in a trust by Jeb Bush in 1999 to purchase important and environmentally significant lands in Florida have been used for other expenditures by our current governor and legislature. Plus some of the lands that had already been set aside in the Florida Forever program, were put up for sale. Amendment #1 will change things so that politicians will not be able to do this again.Please join me in this vote--it's extremely important for the future of Florida's fragile ecosystems.

Green Gardening Matters,

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Garlic chives, a bountiful evergreen crop

The evergreen garlic chives supplies plenty of fresh greens all year. At the top of the photo on the left, you can see how big the spaghetti squash plants are that I talked about last time and the okra just is going nuts. We are harvesting several each day, which is a good thing...
Harvest with a sharp knife or scissors with a cut near the soil level.

Garlic chives!

A few years back when researching crops for Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida, I bought some garlic chives seeds (Allium tuberosum) and planted them next to my meadow garlic bed. (2 perennial crops together makes sense when everything else in my edible beds is changed up several times a year.) At first I was disappointed that only 3 or 4 seeds sprouted, but now I don't know what I'd do with any more. It's been amazing. We can use it all year long.

We use it in soups, salads, stir fries, dips, pestos, and more.  The other day I needed a pesto, but most of my lime basil* had been harvested, so I made up the difference with 7 or 8 bunches of garlic chives. It turned out very well. My recipe for pesto is in the Organic Methods book, it is more of a pesto sauce that's ready to use than the standard pestos. (*The lime basil seems to last better in our summers than the standard sweet basil and its citrusy flavor works well for our recipes.)

While the common name, garlic chives, is descriptive of the onion/garlic taste, this is on the garlic side of the genus with its flat leaves. Chives is on the onion side and its leaves are hollow. I grow chives as well and we love the subtle flavor, but chives does not take to cooking at all. It's always good to have some choices.

I cut off whole sections to use. There's plenty for us throughout the year.

I planted some of my cool-weather crops the other day after several mornings with temperatures well below 70 degrees. It's probably a little early, but I'm anxious to see how these rainbow carrots do. Very cute packaging, but will the carrots live up to their wrapper?

Predators in the yard!

So I was out back working to clear some encroaching vegetation from the path and caught a movement out of the corner of my eye into this mound of sand at the edge of the lawn area. Of course I had my camera in my pocket, so I hunkered down with my camera ready to shoot whatever emerged from the hole. It was not surprising that it was a huge cicada killer when you look at the size of her sand mound.

There were several nests lined up along the edge of the lawn out back. To host these beneficial insects in your landscape, use no landscape-wide insecticide of any kind and leave some of your property unplanted and unmulched. For more information on cicada killers see this post from IFAS

A cicada killer female emerges from her expansive underground nest.
The volume of soil removed for the nest is amazing. See the runway across the top of the mound just above the tips of my fingers. Nests can be up to 4' long with 16 cells—one for each egg/larva.
And while we are talking about wasps...
Paper wasps are also effective predators in the landscape, but their nests are well above the ground. This nest hangs on a dog fennel stem in a vacant lot across the street.

As seen in Clay Today...

My fungus article for Clay Today's Oakleaf Magazine is on page 23.

Sunrise at Jacksonville Beach the other day. I loved the reddish sunlight on the sea oats.

A Florida moon shot... 2 flyers. As I was snapping a shot of this heron, a mullet jumped just at the right time. :-)

I hope you're ready for your cool weather crops and I strongly urge you to try some garlic chives so you can always have something fresh from the garden for your salads, pestos, and stir fries.

Happy Labor Day and I hope that any labor your are doing for the holiday is in the garden.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Spaghetti squash recipes & planting

A store-bought spaghetti squash contained a bunch of sprouted seeds.
How long had it been sitting there in the store?
I was craving a spaghetti squash, so we bought one. The rind seemed unusually hard and quite a number of the seeds had sprouted. I try not to waste squash seeds of any kind, so if I'm not saving them for growing, I prepare them for eating. In this case I planted some of the sprouted seeds, dried 20 or so for future planting, and the rest I fixed for snacking.

Squash seed recipe

This seed recipe works for any of the winter squashes: including butternut, acorn, pumpkin, & spaghetti.
- Scoop out the seedy squash center and separate out the seeds.
- Place the cleaned seeds in a pan with 1/2 inch of heavily-salted water.(You could also use seasoned salt or maybe add some rosemary leaves for a different flavor.)
- Cook over medium heat until most of the water boils away—about 10 minutes.
- Dump the contents of the pan onto a cookie sheet and spread the seeds out.
- Dry in a 200-degree oven for 15 minutes or out in the sun for several hours.
- Ready to eat: eat them by themselves or mix with other seeds & nuts in a trail mix.

Easy microwave spaghetti squash

- Turn cleaned squash halves, split side down in a flat dish with 1/2 inch of water. (I use a 9"x12" glass dish so I can fit both halves in one dish. I stop the turntable from rotating for this dish.)
- Nuke for 10 minutes at full power.
- Take the pan from the microwave, turn the halves cut side up and test the squash with a fork to make sure that it's soft.
- Prop up the halves into the corners of the dish so they are level and pour spaghetti sauce into the seed cavities (I used half a 24-oz jar of store-bought sauce for both halves.)
- Top with freshly ground pepper, oregano & parsley flakes and then grated Pamesan cheese.
- There should still be some water in the bottom of the dish. Nuke for 5 minutes.
- Serve whole in a bowl. Eat right from the rind or turn it out into the bowl.
A delicious, filling, and gluten-free meal.
Prepared squash it ready to turn out of its shell. The meat of the squash is stringy and fills the role of pasta.

Sprouted seeds

The beginning of August is a little early for planting the fall squash crops, but with sprouted seeds, I couldn't really wait. My long bed opposite from the garage was turned and mulched 6 weeks ago, so it was ready. I planted several of the sprouted seeds on one side of the squash swale and some summer squash seeds on the other side. The spaghetti squash seedlings are in a row above my name in this triangular-shaped swale as shown in the photo below right. The summer squash is to the left. The vines are likely to grow out from the area so this section of lawn will host the runners and we'll mow around them until they are done.
The sprouted squash perked right up when planted.
For more details on how I prepare the squash mounds see my post, From compost to dinners
My squash swale is at the far end of the outer bed. In addition to the spaghetti squash, I also planted some summer squash.

Ooh my rainbow carrots!

Rainbow carrots

I grow a lot of carrots from fall, through the winter, and into spring. We've enjoyed the cosmic purple  carrots over the last couple of years, but this time, I decided to branch out with more colors. I'm not sure if I have any purple carrots seeds left over, but I do have some orange carrot seeds so I'll have a more complete rainbow.

This seed pack includes deep purple carrot, yellow carrot, white Kutiger carrot, and nutri-red carrot seeds.

It's not quite time to plant these, but
I am looking forward to my
Only the worms can see it.




Integrated pest management

It's a wasp eat caterpillar world out on our front porch step. This is why landscape-wide poisons are not used in our sustainably-managed property. You want Mother Nature to send out the troops when there are too many caterpillars in the area.
A potter's wasp found a caterpillar. It ate part of it, but then they disappeared. The wasp probably flew it to the nest, laid eggs on it and sealed it up.

Trouble in paradise

For 3 years we tried physical removal methods to knock back this invasive fern from our front pond.
See what we did to get rid of this invasive floating fern from our front pond in my post over on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens blog, "Managing a native pond." Finally, we have a clear pond again.

More than a hundred crows gathered in the trees around our yard the other day. They all hung around for quite a while having a noisy ongoing conversation, and then, they all flew off. We've seen large groups of crows before, but not very often.

Summer's winding down, I can hardly wait to start planting more crops in my edible gardens again. What about you—are you ready for cool-weather edibles? In our book, "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida," there are 3 monthly calendars—one for each section of the state. Order your copy today.

Special Summer Appearance:
My presentation is "Organic GardeningYou can do it!"
Aug. 12th 10am at Fleming Island Library in Clay County.
1895 Town Center Blvd, Orange Park, FL 32003
(about 7.5 miles south of I295 & Rt 17 exit)
This event
is open to the public and has been coordinated
by The Garden Club of Fleming Island.

Green Gardening Matters, 
Ginny Stibolt