Garden Update: 6.21.11

Happy First Day of Summer!

My little piece of paradise. 🙂

It feels like 98 degrees in the garden this afternoon.  It’s been HOT and we’ve had a lot of smoke from the area wildfires on top of the heat.  We have managed to get out in the garden a little bit though!  The Organicide spray is helping with whatever wilt or bacteria was taking over the garden. We lost the okra & peppers but everything else is looking much better! 

We harvested the first of our eggplants & the garden is full of the color purple!

Our two Celebrity tomato bushes have been producing more tomatoes than we know what to do with! I’ve been giving them to friends and neighbors, and even tried making my own sauce in the Crockpot with some of them.

There are more green tomatoes on the plants too.   I will have to look into more ways of saving & using them.  We’ve had tomatoes with almost every meal this week! hehe

This is how big just one tomato plant has gotten. It has to be at least six feet tall and six feet wide! It is funny how I have failed at growing them for years & then this year has been a stellar crop.

Even the basil is looking good this week. It is something that is hard to grow in humid Florida summers, since it is prone to wilt & disease.  It has been a delicious addition to our meals!

I am also happy to report that my avocado plants have recovered. They weren’t getting enough sun & were getting too much water. Now they are looking much healthier & getting big for the containers!

We are looking forward to the break the vegetable gardens give us in July. We have plans to close the composer & solarize the soil once the current veggies finish their cycles.  

Happy Gardening!


Weekend Garden Update

We enjoyed a nice weekend at home, with no agendas, no schedules, no company & nothing too important to do!  Our busy little family doesn’t get a weekend like this very often, so we are very thankful for the easy of this weekend. 

The garden has been very productive since our last update.  We have eaten our first tomato of the season, among other yummy things. I love to update with pictures so here they are! 🙂

We have tons of tomatoes!

Our new squash blooms.

The first signs of okra!

We have a row of new sunflowers.

We replanted forgotten lemon grass.

The first of our eggplants are appearing!

Our green peppers are appearing as well!


We removed some parsley from the full sun & planted it in partial sun, under our banana trees. It is doing much better.

Happy Gardening!

Saving Lettuce Seeds

Our winter garden produced quite a bit of lettuce; 52 heads of Bibb lettuce to be exact.  So I decided to let five of them continue to grow so I could learn about harvesting seeds.

This is what Bibb lettuce looks like right before harvest.

This is what Bibb lettuce looks like right before a seed harvest. Quite different I know. I had lots of people ask me what it was, not believing it was lettuce.

Normally you pick your lettuce before it starts shooting up a seed stalk (or bolting).  In order to save the seeds, you need to let the plant flower.  The lettuce bloom only opens for a short time each day. I could find mine open for about thirty minutes each morning.

While I was waiting on all the blooms to mature, I explored seed savings tips & information on the worldwide web. The most helpful thing I did was contact Garden Hoard, who I had previously purchased seeds from.  I love how much information is enclosed in each seed order.  Garden Hoard (aka Katie Flickinger & team) not only sell handpicked seeds, bulbs, & plants, they promote educating gardeners to grow successfully!  They have a great section on their website about seed saving & even more specifically, seed saving articles on fruits & vegetables.  However, they have nothing about lettuce. I had done my research & knew I was waiting for the yellow blooms to mature into seed pods but that was the extent of my knowledge.  I wasn’t sure if I knew when or how to correctly harvest the seed pods. So I emailed Katie at Garden Hoard with a few questions.
I was so happy when she quickly & enthusiastically responded.  She initially gave me a chunk of info & answers. For another week or more, we emailed back & forth almost 12 times.  I’d send her a picture of the pods once the flowers fell off; she’d tell me not mature enough. In one email, she even sent me a picture of lettuce ready for seed harvest. I loved having a gardener to ask questions since this was unfamiliar territory for me. 
One of the first things Garden Hoard told me was:  one lettuce plant can produce 30,000 seeds!  You should have seen my face while reading the email.  I have five plants. What was I going to do with 150,000 lettuce seeds?! The second thing she told me was: if harvested & stored properly (see below) lettuce seeds can last up to five years. Well this was good but still… 150,000?!
Here are some other great tips she shared with me:

  • Lettuce is awesome for seed saving, because it will almost always come true from seed. However, to be sure that there is no crossing between lettuce varieties, you should plant a different crop between the rows of lettuce.
  • The small flowers will turn into feathery white tufts, and tucked inside are the tiny black (or white) seeds.

  • They don’t ripen all at once, so you have to watch the pods and collect them as they are ready. Whenever you see some seeds turning dark, shake the pod over a paper bag so you can catch them.  Then, in newspaper, let them dry for two weeks, and when they are completely dry, store them in a Ziploc bag in your fridge.

After waiting & waiting for all the white tufts to appear, I was in need of garden space! The five lettuce plants were now at least 4 feet tall.  Florida’s spring gardening season was in full swing by the time SOME sections of the plants were ready for seed harvest.  I waited a little longer then I decided to just pull up three of the most mature plants (& replanted eggplant & okra).  I pulled the entire plants, removed the top 12 inches of the each, which included seed heads & stems. I let them dry for two weeks.  The more they dried the more white tufts appeared! 

I repeated the process with the remaining two lettuce plants. Doing it this way, I had some seed pods that never gave me tufts because they didn’t have time to mature. I also had overly mature pods that the seeds were falling out of, since they had so long to mature. This was okay because even if I collected 100,000 seeds that was still going to be enough. Chuckle.

Now the test… will the little black lettuce seeds sprout? I tossed some of my most mature seeds into one container filled with more water than gardening soil, making it muddy. I threw some smaller less mature seeds into a second container of gardening mud…and then waited, very impatiently.   What if they didn’t sprout? I was going to be SO disappointed. You would have thought I’d won the lottery the morning I checked on them & saw sprouts! I was so excited that I had successfully saved my first seeds. Whew! Both containers of seeds sprouted one day apart. This also helped to guide me on how mature the seed pod should be when removing it from the plant.
Now I have a tedious process of removing the seed pods, opening them up, and separating the seeds. Once that is completed, I have to find them homes. First in line to receive seeds is Katie at Gardening Hoard.  We love following Garden Hoard on Twitter & Facebook so give them a buzz & tell them Bee sent you.

Happy Seed Saving (<– that’s a first)!

The garden before we left…

We’re on vacation right now but I wanted to share what the garden looked like before we left!  Fingers crossed we get some rain while I am away. If we don’t, I fear some seedlings won’t make it.

I am very pleased with my tomato growing efforts this year. I am hoping that my absence from the garden for the week, doesn’t give them any setbacks. I have 7 or 8 green tomatoes like the ones above.

The kids have been growing carrots for a few years now.  To liven things up this year we planted organic purple dragon carrots as well. 🙂 Our first batch is almost ready. They little gardeners picked a few too early but they were still delicious.  (They taste like an orange carrot if you’re wondering).

All the herbs are doing great, especially the pineapple mint, sage & rosemary! I haven’t seen the rosemary grow so thick in years.

The lettuce & radishes are gone in the garden for now.  We enjoyed over 54 heads of lettuce & had the opportunity to learn about saving lettuce seeds (post about this soon)!

The okra, green peppers & eggplant are getting bigger every day. I can’t wait to see their first blooms! Below: eggplant & okra about thirty days old.

Our lantana is blooming like crazy. It looks so bright & pretty in our backyard.  Just another reason I love this time of year…

Happy Gardening!

April Garden Update

The garden is in full swing this month!  We are enjoying daily fresh radishes, lettuce & carrots!  We have green tomatoes on our plants, something that is somewhat of an accomplishment because I have horrible luck with growing tomatoes.

Early sunflowers & marigolds are blooming for our pollinators & we have been starting new seeds almost every chance we get.  Leeks are just sprouting & we are waiting on more basil, sunflowers & onions to sprout.

I walked to a local farmers market last week & came home with more than just fresh collard greens.  These herbs (basil & Vicky’s plant) followed me home as well. 🙂 We replanted them in these homemade chalkboard pots. The little gardeners loved helping me mark them. 🙂

Eggplant & green pepper plants are getting big in the garden & we look forward to their first blooms! Something has been munching on them a little but this is something that comes with sustainable gardening & I think they will be just fine.

Earlier this month we read a great post by The Gardening Mom on our Facebook feed about making a home for the frogs & toads in the garden!  We gave it a try last weekend & are still hoping for a new residence to move in! 🙂

Happy Gardening!!!

Spring Garden Update

Well, spring is flying by here in Florida. The weather is back in the upper 80s and the mosquitoes are back biting again. We sure didn’t miss them.  I’ve had to adjust the garden’s water to help the new sprouts deal with the humidity and heat.  A few more months and it will be too hot for most of the veggies currently in the garden. 

Tomato blooms are appearing daily on our four Celebrity tomato plants.

Our Teddy Bear Sunflowers, which we planted from seeds, are now about a foot tall and showing us the first signs of future blooms. Two even survived a recent transplant!

Strawberries have been plentiful on the plants, but have been eaten by little critters before they are ripe enough for harvest. 

Our Pineapple mint has been plentiful. We have been harvesting it left and right for teas, salads & other yummy creations.

We finally got some parsley to sprout and look forward to more fresh herbs for cooking.

We have also transplanted more French Marigolds in our raised beds. This is the first year we have started them from seeds and have been very happy with our results!

One of the great things about nature is it’s always teaching us something, if we are paying attention.  I disgarded some dried up marigolds last fall. I simply tossed the dead plants into an area full of banana trees.  To my surprise I have wild marigolds in the banana trees this season!  How cute! 

Other gardening notes… our composting is doing lovely with the return of the heat.  I should have a new batch in just another week or so. We have also added organic blood meal & organic fertilizer to the garden to help boost spring time production!

Happy Gardening!

Our Garden Party

Last week one of our little gardeners turned 5 years of age. We celebrated the big event with two small garden themed parties!  We decided on two parties, as we feel smaller groups offer more learning and interaction for party goers.  Check out our previous post for all the fun gardening party preparations.  The parties were held two days in a row. The first one was 4 and 5 year old girls. The second was co-ed 4 and 5 year olds.  And of course a few younger siblings attended both parties.

Once all our guests arrived we put on our gardening aprons (that were part of the party favors) and headed outside!  We first talked about the garden and tried to name the things we could see, eat, smell, etc.  We also investigated the compost bins and what was inside.   Then we started picking!   

Our garden had enough produce at the time for everyone to pick one or two things. So at both parties we picked onions, radishes and carrots. I loved seeing the kids’ faces when I pulled up the first carrot! At the first party we ate lettuce leaves right off the plant. One child did it with me, one licked it and we all laughed.

At the second party we had more time to play in the garden, so we had the children plant okra seeds. I chose okra seeds because they are dark in color and a good size for the children’s small hands.  It is also something that if by chance sprouted, it would be in season.  They were able to plant more than one seed, which I think they enjoyed.  One or two wouldn’t have been enough. They enjoyed digging the holes much as they did planting and covering them up.  Of course we got out a huge watering can and took turns watering the seeds.

We also had time for each child to harvest a lettuce head.  The children snapped off the roots and threw them in the compost bin.  At the end of the party I sent the heads of lettuce home with the parents. I loved how each kid was so proud they had pulled it right out of the ground and given it to their parents to take home.  

Other fun backyard activities were the bean bag toss game, the sandbox and the bounce house. The bean bag toss was a big hit at the second party. Winners took home colorful packs of tomato, pepper and onion seeds.  The sandbox was a big hit with the younger children. We hid toy butterflies in it for them to dig and find.

After all the gardening and outdoor fun, the kids had worked up an appetite. At the first party we headed inside for drinks and healthy snacks.  Afterwards, instead of cake or cupcakes, we all sat down and made mud pudding!  Each child got a “flowering pot” or small clear green bowl. They scooped mud (chocolate pudding), dirt (crushed chocolate cookies) and worms (gummy) into their flowering pot.  Each child was then given a sprig of fresh cut pineapple mint to stick into their mud creation. Of course I had a bite of the mint to show the girls that it was yummy.  They all giggled and started in on the yummy mud.

At the second party we opted for a sunflower cupcake.  I totally took the idea from Martha Stewart Living Special Gardening Issue, March 2011.  We made cupcakes & decorated them with plain orange and yellow icing.  We placed a bowl of dark colored fruit (blueberries, blackberries, grapes) on a table and then surrounded it with the cupcakes. We added a stem and some leaves to finish it off.

I know by my daughter’s actions that she had a wonderful time at each party. Each offered a different chance to learn about the outdoors with her friends. Though gifts were discouraged, we did receive them (and are thankful).  Some gave thought to our garden theme and we had to include them in this post…

Handmade Childs Gardening Apron that was embroidered with the birthday girl’s name. The gift included gardening tools, matching gloves, a hand painted watering can and even a ladybug knee pad. Awesome!

An outdoor memory book was given with markers, stickers and other scrapbooking supplies. It is designed to help record outdoor adventures. We will use it to describe what we see, hear and smell. There are places for us to tuck nature treasures into keepsake pockets. It even has an easel on the back cover, where you can stand it up to display your photos and work. We will really enjoy this book in the coming months!

We are almost done writing all our thank you cards. And as I look back at the parties I have to smile. I didn’t have much time to take pictures but I really enjoyed working with all the kids in the garden. One child at each party enjoyed the garden more than the others. They asked a million questions and even stayed at the garden after all the kids had left.  I may never get another request for a garden themed birthday but if I do I will be thrilled.

Happy Gardening… and LOOK the children’s okra seed sprouts are already sprouting!!!!!!