March 15, 2016 Garden Update

Ideal growing conditions create amazing gardens.  

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When we lived in Michigan, I REALLY worked hard to get my garden started every year.  Each year I tried to make it better.  Raised beds–Check.  Black plastic–Check.  Irrigation system–Check.  Great compost–Check.  Tall deer fence–Check.

But here’s the thing: My garden most always disappointed me as the season went on.

It just never lived up to its potential:  Small tomatoes, small potatoes, wormy broccoli, raccoon-eaten corn.  And on and on and on.  Sigh.  It always was a great tragedy because I’d start the garden each May with such high hopes.

Reflecting back, I think I was missing two key ingredients.  

Can you guess what they are?

We lived on a heavily wooded 7 acre tract in southeastern Michigan and we just didn’t have enough sunshine.  My garden was surrounded by beautiful full century-old oak trees that we couldn’t bear to cut down.  As a result, the garden got full sun for only part of the day.

The second ingredient is more difficult to guess but equally important.  I worked 10 hours each day and had a 30-45 minute commute to and from work.  I’d come home tired and usually wouldn’t get to the garden to check on it.  On the weekend I’d go out and madly water and pull weeds.  I’d also look to see if any pests were after things, but often I’d find that damage was already done.  More than once, I checked on the garden to find the plants wilted and very stressed when we’d forgotten to turn on the irrigation.  Too busy.

Here in Florida, the temperature and humidity have been perfect for growing vegetables since January.  

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Florida natives tell me that usually the great weather starts in early November, but El Nino made last November and December hot and rainy.  This almost killed my tomatoes, but now they’ve recovered   IN   A   BIG    WAY.  It is so motivating.  I just counted and have over 100 baby tomatoes on my 5 plants, with hundreds more coming.  We had the first 2 in our salad last night–They were sweet and juicy and so unlike anything you get at the grocery store.  

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We are much more connected to the outdoors here.

My plants aren’t stuck off on a side lot.  They are close by, where we can see them and check on them several times each day.  If they are even a small bit thirsty, I notice and give them water.  If pests are present, I use non-toxic means to take care of them right away.  They’re in a screened area, so I’m less concerned about big caterpillars eating the broccoli leaves down to nothing the way they did in Michigan (I’m still traumatized about that!), but I check them each day.

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It’s not a big garden this year.  It’s a learning garden.

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I’ve shared some of the things I’ve learned in previous posts:

  1. Plants seem to do well in the sunny, screened areas near the pool.
  2. Use pots so plants can be moved if too much sun or rain.
  3. Check on things frequently.

Beans

What else have I learned?

  1. You don’t need many tomato plants–5 may be too many.
  2. Prune the tomatoes (indeterminate only) for higher production.
  3. Plant kale and greens like grass and you end up with pots of baby greens you can keep cutting.  4 2-ft planters (8 ft total) planted this way yields just about enough for a salad every day.
  4. Broccoli does really well in the full sun and you don’t need to worry too much about planting it too close (4 plants in a 2 foot planter is OK just so long as you keep it well watered and fed).
  5. You can companion plant pole beans and peppers if you have a cage around the pot.
  6. Water daily, feed organic liquid fertilizer every 10 days.
  7. Peppermint water damages leaves.  To get rid of aphids, try liquid dish soap in water instead.

Things I want to do:

  1. Get a drip irrigation system set up (this week).
  2. Get my mechanical composter set up.
  3. Start making compost tea again.
  4. Explore vertical hydroponics next year.  I’ll plant strawberries and lettuce in the hydroponic area.

I’d like to be able to produce enough so I don’t have to buy my vegetables from the store.  That’s my goal.  So part of what I need to learn is how much of each plant I need to grow.

We had fresh broccoli and kale from the garden for dinner last night!

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I put the kale in a ‘Recycle Casserole’ that used up some leftovers I had from a family gathering we held on Saturday evening.  We juiced the broccoli leaves with some grapefruit, oranges, turmeric and ginger and had it with dinner.

Here’s how I made the broccoli:

Garlic-Herb Broccoli

Ingredients:

  • 1 head broccoli, rinsed and chopped to 1 inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 3-4 tablespoons organic chicken broth (or water)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Saute garlic in olive oil until soft.  Stir in herbs and saute for 1 minute.  Add broccoli and broth.  Cover for 5 minutes.  Add salt and pepper and serve.

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