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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.