Annual Vegetables, Permaculture, Sustainable

New Vegetable Bed

My Nematode issue in my primary vegetable bed means I can’t plant tomatoes and peppers there this year. But skip them entirely? Blasphemy. Far better to convert more yard to garden.

Here’s the before picture of an ugly corner of my yard, where the shed meets the awful metal/chain link fence. Someday I’ll tackle both the shed and the fence, but today is all about the vegetables.

That weed-covered trellis is propped over a 2′ x 2′ chunk of concrete. I’ve tried digging it up and can’t find the bottom. No idea why it’s there but it’s in a terrible location and I can’t get rid of it today. So I’m going to try to work with it.

Step 1. Clear out that trellis. Dig up the soil. Mix in manure and a bit of garden soil.

Step 2. Lay down cardboard. This should serve as an early weed block while the garden establishes, without the heat-capturing damage that plastic can do. Eventually it will degrade and feed the worms.

Step 3. Cut holes in the cardboard for seedlings.

Step 4. Cover everything in mulch. I decided to do this before planting so I wouldn’t have to be gentle around fragile transplants. I covered the concrete as well. Hopefully this will help pull it into the design.

Step 5. Plant. I spaced those cutouts so I could easily find them under the mulch. I planted tomatoes and peppers every 18″ or so. In between them, I added peppermint, spearmint, mustard greens, and mesclun mix greens.

Step 6. Clean up, add a bench and a few potted plants. A small mulberry tree in a pot sits on top of the now hidden concrete slab.

It’s not beautiful yet, but it’s better. And when the veggies are tall and full of fruit, I’ll love it. (The dog already approves.)

Here’s the best part of the new area: the view from that little white bench.

Annual Vegetables, Pest Control, Sustainable

Experiment: Displacing Rootknot Nematodes

My primary vegetable bed has a Rootknot Nematode problem. They destroyed my fall harvest of tomatoes and peppers by attacking the plants’ roots.

Thanks to some stellar advice online, I will not be solarizing the soil to kill them, along all the beneficial organisms. Instead, I’m going to displace them using helpful plants (hopefully).

Vegetable bed

Here’s the plan:

1. No tomatoes or peppers in this bed this year. That’s what they attacked with vengeance in the fall and I am removing their favorite food supply.

2. I’m planting lots of leafy greens, especially Broadleaf Mustard. They are high in oxalic acid which harms nematode eggs and suppresses the population.

3. I’m adding Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Red Acre Cabbage. Something chemical in brassica plants has a toxic effect on nematodes. Admittedly I don’t fully understand the mechanism but I’ll give it a shot.

4. Marigolds finish the trap. Marigolds attract nematodes, which enter the roots but then get trapped. They can’t grow or escape, and the marigolds will eventually kill them.

It’s all planted. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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!

cropped-img_30641.jpg

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

 

 

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.