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, mustardgreens, and mesclunmix 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.
I love my time in Minnesota celebrating the holidays. I feel warm and loved with my family. But after ten days of wind and ice and a blizzard that ushered us out with a foot of new snow, I was looking forward to my own backyard.
Full blooms on perennials waited for me.
Firespikes that I thought I killed a year ago returned. This is the first time this gift from a generous neighbor has flowered for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing the pollinators it attracts.
And my sprawling Leaf of Life plant shot tall flowering spikes dripping with little purple bells.
And the mulch. That beautiful gift of mulch I received in late October is still underway. In the past few weeks, I mulched the giant perennial bed, the smaller vegetable bed, and the pots. I mulched the oak trees and avocado and mulberry and citrus. My husband pitched in for a few wheelbarrow loads along the front of the house. And still, this remains:
All that shoveling and hauling and dumping and spreading and I’m only halfway through this massive pile of mulch. Sigh. So, you can guess my weekend plan.
Still, it’s good to be home in sunny Tampa where I’m prepping for the next growing season, starting… now.
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.
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.
I mulched one bed with a free pine mulch that a tree service company dumped in my driveway.
A second bed I interspersed Boniato Potato seedlings wherever there was a gap of a foot or more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.