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.

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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, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.