Florida Natives, Permaculture

Home again, home again

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.

Cranberry hibiscus

Cranberry hibiscus

Full blooms on perennials waited for me.

Peace lily and hibiscus tree

Peace lily and hibiscus tree

Firespike

Firespike

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.

Leaf of life blooms

Leaf of life blooms

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.

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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, 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.

 

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.

IMG-1829
Boniato Potato vines as weed suppression

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

IMG-1821

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.