Sustainable

The Gift of Mulch

Cool temps and soft breezes. I am thrilled November has arrived.

And, there’s more! I came home from a business trip to find this giant pile of mulch in my driveway.

Mulch from Chip Drop

Chip Drop came through for me. If you are unfamiliar with Chip Drop, this is a sustainable service worth learning about.

To add the recommended 3-4″ of mulch over my giant perennial bed, and my annual vegetable garden, and my large potted trees and bananas, I require bags upon bags of mulch. So many good trees demolished. So much plastic. So much cash.

As an alternative, Chip Drop connects with local tree services companies in the area. When someone in your neighborhood has a tree cut down, the tree service mulches it and drop it in your driveway or yard or wherever you specify. This is my second delivery.

The first time, I received a fresh pine tree and my yard smelled of Christmas for weeks. This one is a finer, cleaner mulch. And they provided enough for me to mulch everything in my backyard as well as start the other landscaping projects I’ve been planning all year.

Technically, the Chip Drop service is free. But there are so many sustainably-minded homeowners in my area that waiting for a free drop can take over a year. I upped my bid from $0 to $20, and voila, a vehicle-sized mound of mulch appeared three weeks later.

I am anxious to get started. Before and after pictures to come.

And perhaps now is the time to buy the wheelbarrow I’ve been coveting. I always appreciate a clever yet simple product design, and this would cut my bending, twisting, and lifting in half.

Find out more about it at Allsop Home and Garden.

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Annual Vegetables, Florida Natives, Sustainable

Natives, Edibles, and Pollinator-Favorites

I am loving the new monthly seed swap at Shell’s in Tampa. Today, I donated a tray of Cranberry Hibiscus and succulents. In return, I left with a new infusion of natives, edibles, and pollinator-favorites.

Here’s a sampling:

More on each of these new additions to come. But the weather is glorious and I’m headed outside to enjoy it.

Annual Vegetables

Seed Swap: Tampa-Loving Tomatoes, Peppers, and Beans

The sticky end of summer has me doing anything but working outdoors. I finally tackled a project from the to-do list: Prep seeds for swapping.

I’ve bundled up seeds from my best producers and I’m ready to trade:

  • Carmen Sweet Italian peppers
  • Mild Jalapeno peppers (That’s what the label said. I would strike the word mild. These peppers have a serious bite to them.)
  • Cherokee Wax beans
  • Royalty Purple Bush beans
  • Cherokee Purple Heirloom tomatoes
  • Golden Peach Heirloom tomatoes
  • Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes

seed packets

I’m headed to the Community Seed Swap at Shell’s Feed and Supply Store on Nebraska Avenue this Saturday, but if anyone is interested in arranging a trade prior, I’d love to hear from you. What do you need? What do you have to share?

Annual Vegetables, Florida Natives, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Sustainable

Local Favorites from Tampa Gardening Swap

The Tampa Gardening Swap on Facebook is easily my favorite gardening resource. A few months ago, the admin asked a wonderful question. “For all the members– new and old — what is your go to place for the following…”

In 347 comments, this amazing group shared all their favorite resources for gardening and landscaping in the Tampa area. I’ve taken their recommendations, searched out the sources, and compiled them into an easy reference guide.

Enjoy!

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Trees and Plants

Native Plants

Wilcox Nursery, Largo, FL
Sweet Bay Nursery, Parrish, FL
Florida Native Plant Society, when they have sales (usually at USF)
Florida Wildflowers Grows Co-op
USF Botanical Gardens, Tampa, FL. Sales in spring and fall
Willow Tree Nursery, St. Pete, FL
Island Bamboo, Pinellas Park, FL

Non-Fruit Trees

Florida-scape Maintenance and Design, St. Pete
Kerby’s Nursery, Seffner, FL
Green Thumb Festival , St. Pete, every April

Fruit Trees

USF Botanical Gardens, Tampa, FL. Sales in spring and fall
Crowley’s Nursery, Sarasota, FL
Christine’s Tropical and Exotic Plants, Oldsmar, FL
Rivers of Provision, Tampa, FL

Annual Seedlings

Whitwam Organics, Tampa FL
Shell’s Feed and Garden Supply, Tampa, FL
Grace’s Hydro Organic Garden Center, Temple Terrace, FL
Hancock Seed Co, Dade City, FL

Flowering Plants

Duncheon’s Nursery, Land O’Lakes
Bloom Garden Shop, Tampa
Manny’s on the Bay, Tampa
Bayshore Market, Tampa
Thrive: Garden + Water, Tampa
Earl’s Garden Shop, Tampa
Kerby’s Nursery, Seffner

Edible Perennials

Citrus Park Landscape Nursery, Tampa
Rare Fruit Council, Tampa
Critter Companions, Tampa
Green Dreams, Spring Hill
Bob’s Berries, Riverview

Blueberry Bushes

Bob’s Berries, Riverview

Cacti and Succulents

Mitch Armstrong Nursery, St. Pete
Cactus Moon, Tampa

Tomatoes

Hot and Humid Hydro Nursery, Riverview (Paul Cilia)
Baker Creek Seeds
Grace’s Hydro Organic Garden Center, Temple Terrace, FL

Seeds

Whitwam Organics, Tampa
Baker Creek Seeds
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 
Dragonfly Ranch Organics, Hudson
Hancock Seed Co, Dade City, FL

Herbs

Willow Tree Nursery, St. Pete, FL
D&D Growers, Lithia
Shell’s Feed and Garden Supply, Tampa, FL
Willow Herbal Delight Gardens, Valrico
Manny’s on the Bay, Tampa

Dwarf Fruit Trees

Jene’s Tropicals, St. Pete

Bonsai

Sean’s Bonsai

Milkweed, Host Plants, Nectar Plants

Citrus Park Landscape Nursery, Tampa
Whitwam Organics
, Tampa
Wilcox Nursery, Largo

Rare Grapevines

Paul Zmoda

 

Garden and Landscape Supplies

Landscape Design

Dragonfly Landscape and Water Gardens, Tampa
Southern Ground Works, Tampa
Anni Ellis Garden Design Inc., Tampa

Mulch

Seffner Rock & Gravel, Tampa
GetChipDrop.com

Soil

Whitwam Organics, Tampa
Big Earth Landscape Supply, Tampa
Urban Roots, Carrollwood

Compost

Whitwam Organics, Tampa
Seffner Rock & Gravel, Tampa

Shell

Cypress Creek Landscape Supply, Tampa
Seffner Rock & Gravel, Tampa
Big Earth Landscape Supply
, Tampa

Rock

Seffner Rock & Gravel, Tampa
Carroll’s Building Materials, St. Pete
Big Earth Landscape Supply, Tampa

Irrigation

Whitwam Organics, Tampa
Southern Ground Works, Tampa

Raised Garden Beds

Whitwam Organics, Tampa

Rainbarrels

Hillsborough County Extension Office, Seffner. Waterwise workshops.

Solar Panels

Solar United Neighbors
POWUR

Grow Bags

Bob’s Berries, Riverview
Rain Science Grow Bags

Licensed Arborist

O’Neil’s Tree Service

 

Community and Education

School Gardens

Whitwam Organics, Tampa

Community Gardens

Whitwam Organics, Tampa
Temple Terrace Community Gardens, Temple Terrace

Gardening Classes

Local library
Whitwam Organics, Tampa
Dragonfly Ranch Organics, Hudson
Hillsborough County Extension Office
, Seffner
USF Botanical Gardens, Tampa. Sales in spring and fall
Grace’s Hydro Organic Garden Center, Temple Terrace, FL

Gardening Podcasts, Radio Shows

Florida Gardening
Sustainable Living and Alternative Health

 

Fertilizer and Pest Control

Hay/Straw

Seffner Rock & Gravel, Tampa
Shell’s Feed and Garden Supply
, Tampa
Winning Circle Feed, Hudson
The Hay Exchange, Plant City
Fox’s Feed Depot, Odessa

Goat Poop

The Dancing Goat, Tampa
Jesse Nobles, Tampa

Rabbit Poop

Jesse Nobles, Tampa
Dragonfly Ranch Organics, Hudson

Chickens

Twenty-Four Rivers, Plant City
Dragonfly Ranch Organics, Hudson

Organic Fertilizers

Whitwam Organics, Tampa
Shell’s Feed and Garden Supply, Tampa, FL
Crowley’s Nursery, Sarasota, FL

Organic Pest Control

Neem Tree Farms, Brandon
Whitwam Organics, Tampa

Horse Poop

Kitchen Botanicals, Brooksville
Dragonfly Ranch Organics, Hudson

Worms

Jesse Nobles, Tampa
Heather Marie Henderson, St. Pete

Beneficial Bugs

Dragonfly Ranch Organics, Hudson
USF Air Potato Beetles

 

 

 

 

Annual Vegetables, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Sustainable

Mulch or Potatoes: Experimenting with Weed Suppression

Rains pummeled Tampa for the last few months. I left town and my garden at the end of April. Knowing I would not be able to do any yard work through May and June, with the exception of a few visits just long enough to collect a harvest, I experimented with three weed control strategies.

  1. I mulched one bed with a free pine mulch that a tree service company dumped in my driveway.
  2. A second bed I interspersed Boniato Potato seedlings wherever there was a gap of a foot or more.
  3. The third bed is the largest, and has historically had the worst weed problems, so I did both: Boniato Potato seedlings plus pine mulch.

When I returned over two months later, the yard was a bit of a mess. But it was clear which strategy was most successful.

Here is the raised bed with pine mulch only.

pine mulch bed
3-tiered raised bed with pine mulch only

What do you mean you can’t find the bed? See that tiny bit of cedar poking out? 🙂

Consider this method a massive failure.

Now take a look at the raised bed with Boniato Potatoes only. I ran out of mulch, so this was clean soil from the compost pile plus potatoes. Some weeds still worked their way through, but this bed is in far better condition.

potato seedlings
Boniato Potatoes used as weed suppression in raised bed

When I started poking around, I was happily surprised at what I found. The potatoes did not choke out my plants, but filled in around them.

Here is a tall basil plant that would have been strangled in the mulch-only bed. The potatoes blocked the weeds around the basil without killing the herb. And those few tomatoes are attached to an Everglade Tomato vine that runs underneath the potato leaves. Also hiding among the potatoes: Yellow Pear tomatoes, Okinawa Spinach, and Pineapples. A few plants that started in this bed have disappeared: kale, a mesclun salad mix, and more greens that don’t typically fare well this late into the summer.

basil
Basil and Everglade Tomatoes protected by Boniato Potatoes

Some weeds still managed to weasel through the dense canopy of potato lives, but compared to the other bed, this method was far more successful.

And here is the largest garden bed. It is lowest to the ground, only raised by about 4″, and already had a weed infestation. I pulled out everything I could in April, but expected a number of returning invaders. In this bed, I mulched, I planted potatoes, I added moss from the tree in the front yard. I did what I could.

both
Boniato potatoes, pine mulch, and a bit of moss as weed suppression

The result is better than I expected. A lot of weeds, yes, but the plants I care about are protected enough. My Rosemary bush is healthy. The Cranberry Hibiscus I thought I lost in the freeze came back, along with at least ten volunteers. False Bird of Paradise, also heavily damaged by January’s freeze, are back.

It took a couple hours to excavate, but the plants I care about are all here, protected by the potatoes and mulch. I harvested a bowl of Sweet Italian Red Peppers, Hungarian Hot Peppers, and Chili Peppers. I clipped handfuls of Basil, Mint, Papalo, and Cuban Oregano. I yanked the tomatoes that were at the end of life. The Prickly Pear Cactus, Aloe, and other succulents in pots throughout the bed are not thriving, but are also not dying. They are just waiting around for some love and attention. Florida Lettuce, Okinawa Spinach, Sticks on Fire, False Roselle, Lillies, Lemongrass…they are all doing well, hiding among the potatoes.

I’m looking forward to eventually harvesting the sweet potatoes, a secondary reward for this self-caring weed control. Overall, I’ll call the method a success.

 

Annual Vegetables

Tomatoes: 5 Successful and 2 Failed Varieties

I planted a variety of tomatoes in various locations around my yarden. All started in healthy soil, thickly mulched, and I watered regularly for the first two weeks. Then I abandoned them. Now, I’m back to harvest and judge.

Two varieties failed this experiment.

Mr. Stripey, an heirloom variety, grew a huge limb-heavy plant that, in the end, offered a single ripe fruit. And it was a tasty one. I will likely try this one again on another year when I am around to trim and tend to it. Perhaps a bit of babying would have helped.

Summer Set, a heat-tolerant hybrid, also grew an unwieldy plant, but offered zero fruit. None.  And then the plant died.

I yanked both disappointments from the bed today.

Failed tomato varieties: Mr. Stripe and Summer Set
Failed tomato varieties: Mr. Stripe and Summer Set

 

A few tomatoes did well with my “plant em and ditch ’em” approach.

In full sun, Yellow Pear tomatoes produced baskets of fruit and I’m still picking a bowl a day. The Better Boys kicked out a number of juicy, healthy tomatoes. The Sweet 100s are amazingly sweet and easily my husband’s favorite.

I added a new garden bed in the shadier side of my yard. The bed receives filtered sun all day, and direct sun from 3:00 to 5:00 pm right now. The Yellow Pears did fine here, but they do fine wherever I plant them. The Everglade Tomatoes could use more sun. They are producing a few ripe fruit here and there, but far later in the season then the rest of garden.

My favorite addition this year was this Garden Peach variety. They have a mild, sweet flavor. They slice up beautifully and serve in gorgeous thick slices. And, since they are in the new shady bed, I’m still harvesting them.

Garden Peach Tomatoes
Garden Peach Tomatoes

 

 

Perennial Vegetables

Messy, but Still Producing

This is a summer of travel for me. A bit for work, a lot for fun, but very few days at home. After my last post, I flew to Denver for a week. I returned to more wildness, more chaos, and more hidden harvest.

Allowing this kind of wildness to take over shows me which plants thrive on my neglect. I become aware of just how much weeding and pruning and sculpting I do in the especially unkempt areas of the yard. Time to find a solution for those areas. Other corners are well-planted with the right plants in the right place with the right weed suppression (mulch or Boniato Potatoes or both).

Boniato potatoes flowers
Boniato potato flowers

I returned to more ripening vegetables. I now pick a small bowl each morning, plus all the Okinawa Spinach and Lemongrass I can use. Today, I gathered my first collection of these lovely Garden Peach tomatoes from a shady area of the yarden. They are thick and juicy and sweet, and I am absolutely saving some seeds for next season.

garden peach tomatoes
Garden Peach tomatoes, plus a small bowl of veggies

My new passion flower, in full sun, is happy and covered in caterpillars. The little plant has a strong stem and is kicking out new leaves daily, even as the caterpillars fill them with holes. But providing a home to local species is one of the reasons I bought this beautiful plant, and I know it will bounce back after the caterpillars eat their fill. I’ll let nature do its thing and trust I’ll see more of these beautiful purple flowers in the future, soon with the addition of bright-orange Gulf Fritillary butterflies.

gulf fritillary caterpillar
Caterpillars of Gulf Fritillary Butterflies on a Passion Flower

The Purple Bush Beans and Cherokee Wax Beans are thick with pods.

purple bush beans
Purple Bush Beans

In the shadier areas of the yard, Sugar Snap Peas and Everglade Tomatoes continue to flower and produce fruit.

sugar snap pea flower
Sugar Snap Pea Flower

The yarden is a mess right now, but it’s working. The weeds are down, the desired plants are up, and it all just needs attention and time and, eventually, a landscaping overhaul that focuses on aesthetics.

messy
My very messy garden today

I had one full day to clean it up yesterday. But it was hot, sunny, and a perfect day for scuba diving, so I went on a play date with schools of fish instead of working in the garden. Oh well. Maybe I’ll find the time before I head off on my next adventure.

 

Perennial Vegetables

Abandoned Harvest

I spent the last six weeks in Minnesota visiting family. I returned to a glorious mess of a garden hiding a harvest within the branches.

I start by inspecting the USF plant sale additions, new to my yard and untested. Prior to leaving, I nestled the Jaboticaba into the ferns, the wettest place of my yard. It is damp and healthy this morning. The passion flower needs a larger trellis. Purple blooms crawl across the ground. The Everbearing Mulberry is full of fruit.

Satisfied, I grab a shears and a bowl and go to work on the harvest. Yellow Pear tomatoes, sprouted from the seeds of my most generous plant last year, fill a full bowl.

Sweet 100’s offer handfuls of candy-like fruit. Purple Cherokee and Better Boy tomatoes cling to the branches, concentric circles evidence of inconsistent watering and sun cycles over the past few weeks. Most have holes and pests and will be composted.

IMG-1827
Better Boy Tomato

I pluck eight juicy Hungarian peppers, a pile of chilies, and a few jalapenos.

The spinach and lettuce mixes have bolted, dying flowers waving in almost breeze. Kale held on and I clip a bowl of leaves. Okinawa spinach is everywhere, their thick stalks offering a feast of green and purple leaves. I clip a few and leave the rest for future egg scrambles.

IMG-1841
Okinawa Spinach

In the overgrown grass around the garden bed, I brush a plant that releases a wave of scent. I have Papalo volunteers, a Cilantro-scented herb that I thought I lost in January’s freeze. I hunt through the weeds and find three more.

IMG-1839
Papalo volunteer, a heat-loving Cilantro replacement

Cherokee Wax and Purple Bush beans fill a second bowl. I missed the Sugar Snap peas, although a number dried pods hanging off the vines offer seeds for replanting. The beans and peas are tangled mess of vines, some choking out tomato and kale stalks, others climbing over the fence to the neighbor’s.

Everywhere, Boniato potato vines fill the beds. I planted these right before I left, filling in any garden gaps with this virulent strain that survived a hurricane, freeze, and my neglect. Once again, they have proven to be tough little weed blockers, and have claimed every patch of sunshine available. Eventually I’ll dig them up and enjoy piles of sweet-tasting potatoes, but for now, I appreciate how well they keep the weeds suppressed. They can stay.

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Boniato Potato vines as weed suppression

In the middle of it all, a large pineapple, a couple weeks from ripe.

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Over the past few weeks, I acclimated to the Minnesota summer. This Florida stickiness is rough. By the time I have finished a cursory review and harvest of my abandoned yard, I am dripping with sweat, covered in mosquito bites, and I itch all over. It is not quite 8:00 am and I am ready to shower, close up the house, and turn on the AC. But I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

Florida Natives, Permaculture, Sustainable

USF Spring Plant Sale

Rain was coming and I hustled to get my new plants in the ground. I, along with a few thousand other Tampa gardeners, scored long-awaited finds at the USF spring plant sale this weekend. Streams of sticky, sweaty gardeners drug wagons loaded with wobbly pots through the crowd. Introverts do not move intuitively through crowds, and this sale drew the kind of crowd most us avoid. We did not move seamlessly, but we were largely a polite group as we inched out of the way while sly-eyeing each other’s wagons.

passionflower

I’ve attended this sale previous years, and I have to say, it was more fun before. Years prior, I showed up late, wandered aimlessly, and allowed myself to be captivated by the bright, shiny, and unfamiliar blooms. This was before I realized how little of my Minnesota gardening knowledge would transplant to Florida.

This year at the USF plant sale, I had an agenda. I brought my wagon, my husband, and $100. I was not going to be distracted by all the lovely finicky plants. I was not going to buy showy blooms that require devotion. I was looking for specific perennial edibles I could not find at local nurseries.

everbearingmulberry

Everbearing Mulberry: Like blackberries, only sweeter, grown on a thornless tree that can be pruned to keep the fruit accessible.
Jaboticaba: A Brazilian grape-like fruit that takes years to bear, and then supplies an unending harvest of sweet purple fruit plucked right from the trunk of plant.
Dragonfruit: A cactus that snakes its way vertically along a fence, sprouting fruit and flowers.
Passionflower Vine: A lure for the local butterflies and bees, plus a gorgeous flower to play showpiece, with the potential for passionfruit. Mostly, I love the look of vines and wanted to add a gorgeous flowering fine that was beneficial to the local wildlife.

jaboticaba

In truth, my little notecard had a much longer list than this: Chaya, American Beauty Berry, Kopper King Hibiscus, Toad Lillies, Goji Berries, Gladiator Alliums. But I wanted to start with the easiest of the list, and $100 doesn’t make it very far when you’re buying fruit trees. I’m still learning.

Maybe next year, I’ll loosen up a bit, and allow a few bright blooms to jump into my wagon. Next year I’ll mix an agenda with some inspiration. But this year, I’m deeming a success. Let’s hope the new plants all make it.

Annual Vegetables, Florida Natives, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Sustainable

Growing a Yarden: A Mini Food Forest in the City of Tampa

I’ve lived in Florida five years now, and have spent much of that time learning the local basics. I now value the semi-shady spots over the pure sunny expanses. I plant tomatoes in January and start seedlings in July. I am quick to spray the juvenile Texas lubbers before they emerge as hard-sided grasshopper tanks.

I’ve also learned about my gardening style. I value gardens over lawn, local over imported, and most importantly, food over flare. I have finally accepted that I am an inconsistent gardener. I enjoy spending hours in the garden in March and April, September and October. The rest of the year, I would like the yard to mostly care for itself. With this in mind, I have spent the past year building my plan.

I am converting my Tampa yard to a food forest garden.

cranberryhibiscus

I’ve experimented for three years in this yarden, and now have a fair sense of the soil, light, pests, weeds, and water. I have a small collection of plants who love my Tampa yard, plants who have endured a hurricane, a freeze, and a few years of my intermittent neglect. The tough edibles who have made the cut: Okinawa Spinach, Florida Lettuce, Florida Cranberry, Ice Cream Bananas, Cuban Oregano, Prickly Pear Cactus, Pineapple, Cranberry Hibiscus. The landscape plants who attract the butterflies and bees: Spiderwort, Hibiscus, Wandering Jew, Devil’s Backbone, Shepherd’s Needle, Oxalis, and so many ferns. I have a handful of young trees who may or may not make it: Moringa, Avocado, Key Lime, Meyer Lemon, and a multi-grafted citrus who has spent three years in my front yard boasting flowers but never fruit. And I mix in the regular staples, doing my best to capture the seeds of the heirlooms and replant: tomatoes, peppers, greens, peas, potatoes, and beans.

I’ll share my successes and failures here as I go.