Thursday, April 18, 2019

Cuban Organic Gardens

Sign for an organic farm in Cuba with a
list of products

While traveling in Cuba with the Hillsborough County Master Gardening Association a couple of years ago, I learned of a technical manual for organic vegetable growing produced by the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture.  I was unable to obtain one while there.  After seeing (and eating) their vegetables produced by totally organic methods in an environment with limited resources, I really wanted to know how they did it. 

Finally, I was able to locate an older copy online in Spanish.  I don't read Spanish and it is over 80 pages long, so I was stumped.  Master Garden Janet Newburgh came to the rescue and translated the entire manual for us, a labor intensive job.   It is very interesting reading for anyone interested in the best way to grow vegetables organically. 

See links below:

Technical Manual for Organic Gardening, Intensive Gardening, and Semi-protected Organic Gardening (English translation by Janet Newburgh)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Spring in the VegHeadz Garden

The beautiful spring weather has produced a burst of progress in the VegHeadz garden.  New beds are under construction, plans are being made, and the edible forest garden is almost complete.  Make plans to visit on any Wednesday morning or during the Spring Open House on May 11.  2019.  Look for our new clumping bamboo, Hugelkultur sweet potatoes, mini rotation beds, berms and swales to control flow of water in our sloped garden, edible perennials and fruit trees and much more in our forest garden. 
Howard, Peggy, Evelyn, and bamboo
farmer Tracy Cato
Perhaps you shuddered when you saw the word "bamboo."  Not to worry.  A VegHeadz field trip to Thigpen Trail Bamboo Farm near Moultrie provided lots of information and research and we were able to choose from many varieties of non-invasive clumping bamboo for our garden.  Not only are they planted to show that not all bamboo is hard to manage, but to provide material for trellises and other garden structures.  We might even try a few bamboo shoots. 
Amidst all the activity, we have had some regular visitors to the garden who we have thoroughly enjoyed.  Kids in the garden make it all worthwhile. 
Cathi and grandchildren, Ella Rose, Cullen,
and Liam

Howard, our premier weeder, is
showing June and Tommy how to pull
weeds - an essential gardening skill

Jeanne and granddaughter June. 
Gardening provides fun and great learning
experiences.  June and her brother
Tommy have become enthusiastic regulars in the garden.
Finally, a progress report on the first of 12 new garden beds in graduated sizes. 
After several years of planning,
we are finally under way
Many thanks to our faithful construction
volunteers, Mike, Glenn, Buddy and Howard
Not without a few mishaps.  We now know where
the water line runs
Carole, Cathy and Peggy spent
hours painting the new storage area,
requiring agility in places
Peggy McDonald, our new garden coordinator, plants the first seedlings in the first new bed. 
Instead of filling completely with garden soil, we first added several whole banana trees we
had cut, lots of cuttings and twigs from non-invasive trees, wood chips, and chopped
mustard plants.  This saves on garden soil, since the plants usually use only the first
six to eight inches.  As the underlayer decomposes, it will help retain moisture and
provide nutrients for the crops

Monday, February 4, 2019

VegHeadz Garden update

Peggy and Mike make mulching fun
Cold weather has kept us out of the garden for a couple of weeks, but this week looks like great gardening weather.  Time to plant your potatoes and peas and get your seedlings started for spring crops. 

We're getting ready for spring at the VegHeadz garden with new beds under way and cover crops being chopped and incorporated into the existing beds. 

Louie Doll, our herb grower, is planting a tea garden in one of the raised beds centered by a new tea camellia (Camellia sinensis).  This is the plant from which most traditional teas are made.  It has small white flowers with yellow centers.  Leaves are plucked from the new growth and dried to make tea.  We'll also have a variety of herbs which are suitable for making tea as well as ginger and turmeric to add to our mix. 

Marie and Louie plant tea herbs in the new
tea garden

Camellia sinensis, from which most
traditional teas are made

Monday, January 7, 2019

Edible Food Forest and Cover Crops

The VegHeadz spent our last workday planting trees in the edible forest garden
The VegHeadz have been busy preparing the back part of the garden for the creation of an edible food forest.  This included leveling the area, digging swales and creating berms to control the flow of water through the area and to provide moisture to the new plants, moving some of the perennial vegetables that are already in place, and growing cover crops to stabilize our changes and improve the soil.  Last week, we planted the trees which are the backbone of the forest.  This is the first phase of plantings.  Citrus and tender perennials will be added in the spring, with additional ground covers, vines, and tubers being added to complete the forest.  It has been really exciting and rewarding to watch it develop. 
Howard makes sure there are no
weeds around a newly planted tree.  Cover
crops remain in place to help nourish the new trees
Because of the work involved in upgrading our garden with new beds and a storage area in addition to creating the forest garden, we did not plant any winter vegetables this fall.  Instead, we sowed cover crops of varying types in almost every available space and they are thriving.  Because of the warm fall and winter, some of the grains have begun heading out, so we will be cutting them back this week to keep them from developing seeds.  The cover crops were selected particularly to help deter nematodes since a soil test last fall indicated we have a nematode problem.  The mustards and other cover crops will be worked into the soil in their beds as well as adjoining areas beds to help reduce the nematode load for the next crop.  

Austrian Winter Peas
Abruzzi Rye
Broadleaf Mustard
Crimson Clover
Red Giant Mustard

Coker Oats

Brassica Juncea - Mighty Mustard

 Our storage area is well on its way to completion, and the new raised planting beds are the next project in development.  We'll be planting peas and potatoes soon--spring is on the way. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Fall in the VegHeadz Garden

Time to catch up with some of the happenings at the VegHeadz demo garden.  We had a great (but very hot) summer and harvested lots of Seminole pumpkins, peppers, Roselle, and peanuts among other things.  The move of our annual beds into the more sunny area of Bed 5 is well under way, and our new Edible Forest Garden in the partially shaded area of the garden is taking shape.  We will be planting trees between Thanksgiving and Christmas with other fall plants to follow, and a final planting in Spring of more tender things such as citrus. 

Roselle:  Master Garden Peggy McDonald is our Roselle whisperer.  She has been experimenting with things to make with the harvested calyxes and her recipes can be found here.  She has also marked some of the calyxes on the plant with tape to allow them to mature so that seeds can be gathered.  We have found that seeds harvested from the green seed pods when the calyxes are harvested have a very low germination rate and may tend to mold in the pod.  Peggy has had much better success with seeds allow to ripen on the plant. 

Aji Dulce peppers
Peppers:  Master Gardener Jeanne Breland planted a bed with seeds she obtained at the Leon County Library.  One of those varieties was our most successful pepper this year--Aji Dulce, a small colorful mildly spicy pepper which has produced in profusion.  They have proven delicious in salads (such as multi-bean salad), as well as stuffed with goat or cream cheese similar to peppadews.  This can be done with the peppers either fresh or pickled.  Other peppers which have consistently produced are Carmen, Datil, and Pablano.  Carmen is an especially sweet, juicy, thick fleshed variety that is harvested after it turns red and is wonderful to eat out of hand.  Both Datil and Pablono are mid range on the hot scale.  (Hotter if you include seeds when using)  Of course, Jalapeno peppers are also easy to grow and a reliable addition to your garden. 

Harvesting Peanuts

Peanuts:  Master Gardener Louie Doll who oversees our herb beds, decided to plant peanuts in a vacant raised bed this summer.  Peanuts are a legume and harvest nitrogen from the air for use by the current and subsequent crops.  They also make an excellent ground cover in the hot summer months and discourage weeds from taking over the bed.  In the fall we harvested several gallons of peanuts for boiling or roasting.  We did discover that we should have harvested them earlier, because late summer rains caused many of them to decompose.  This was our first try, so next year we will harvest earlier.  The benefits to the soil remain the same, and new plants have sprung up in places from peanuts left in the ground, so nitrogen is continuing to be supplied to the bed.

Sweet Potatoes:  We haven't planted sweet potatoes for several years, but we were able to harvest a good crop in our perennial garden from volunteers grown from bits of sweet potato roots left in the ground from our last harvest.  When allowed to grow, sweet potatoes are a perennial crop. 
Carol and Peggy can't believe the
size of this clump of sweet potatoes

Howard had fun digging for
sweet potato treasure
Ginger root and Turmeric:  Some ginger varieties grown for their flowers are spectacular.  We grow edible gingers but other than the Thai Ginger (Galangal), they are pretty unspectacular looking.  This year for the first time, the ones grown in the more sunny herb beds decided to bloom.  While pretty unassuming, we were excited and they were quite interesting.

Turmeric bloom

Bloom of Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Food Forest in the VegHeadz Garden

The VegHeadz have been busy digging ditches--or swales--and creating berms from the displaced soil.  It's the first step in creating a food forest or forest garden at the south end of our space where there is just a little too much shade for growing annual vegetables.  The purpose of the swales (there will be three) is to capture water as it descends the hill (I guess you've gathered are garden is on a slope), and retain it for the use of plants below the swale. 

Food forests are relatively new to the US and other countries in the temperate zone.  Some call them the gardens of the future, but they have been used by people in the tropics for milllenia. 

From Wikipedia:  "Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines, and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans:"

We have been growing perennial vegetables for several years and our perennial garden is one of the most successful and least-labor intensive areas of the garden.  We haven't quite figured out what to do with the food grown there, nor made it a part of our regular diet.  It takes time to change life-long habits.  Food pantries we usually donate to don't know what to do with the unfamiliar edibles either.  It's an area we will be working on as we develop the food forest.

As it becomes more and more difficult to grow the familiar crops we all love such as tomatoes, we hope to develop new tastes that require less work to satisfy.  The perennials we presently grow will be incorporated into the forest which will be expanded to include fruit trees, soil building plants, and new layers of edibles. 

A diagram of the food forest, designed by local certified arborist and natural landscape designer David Copps, is available under our Resources heading.  David's article on food forests previously published in the Tallahassee Democrat gives a further explanation of where we are heading.  We'll be posting updates as we progress--or come visit us any Wednesday morning.  You can even help us dig ditches. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Harvest time in the garden

Seminole Squash/Pumpkin
We've harvested the last of our Seminole Squash.  This is the third large harvest we've had from about six plants.  This time we picked all the squash, regardless of maturity.  Seminole pumpkins can be eaten when mature, or used like summer squash when they are still green.  If you have the space, and you want a dependable and delicious vegetable to enjoy throughout the winter (they keep for up to a year with no refrigeration if picked when mature), this is the plant for you.  They have deep orange, dense, sweet flesh much like a butternut squash.  Use this squash in recipes for sweet potatoes or pumpkin, in muffins, pies, and other baked goods, in stews, roasted, just about any way you can imagine.  Versatile and delicious.  Learn more about Seminole Squash here:  Sturdy Seminole Squash Provides Much Food With Little Effort 

Harvest time provides some other surprises.  Let some of your spring plants go to seed even if you are not seed saving.  The roots will continue to provide sustenance for soil micro-organisms, and the flowers of many varieties will give weeks of pleasure for you and the desirable insects in your garden such as bees.  This romaine surprised us all with it's beautiful blue flowers which have been in residence for over a month. 

Romaine lettuce in fall bloom

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Garden Update

Maxibel green beans -- this many from half a row.
We'll be planting them again.
The VegHeadz garden looks better and is producing better than it has in it's approximately seven years of operation.  Come join us on a Wednesday morning and learn how we have accomplished this and what's in store for the future. 

Our squash garden is taking off.  Many
butternuts, some Seminole Pumpkins and at least
 three huge Candy Roasters

Garden sentinels -- two hawks looking for prey.  You might catch
them if you arrive at the garden early like Cathi did

And some beautiful white flowers from our garden.  In addition to adding joy to the garden experience, they attract pollinators and predator insects, a part of our goal to control pests naturally. 


Queen Anne's Lace


Permaculture Design Course

Beginning June 29, a 72 hour Permaculture Design course will be offered at the Leon County UF/IFAS Extension.  For details, click the link below.  Many of the techniques used in the VegHeadz vegetable demonstration garden are derived from permaculture sources.  What is permaculture?  Click on the link to a recent article published in the Tallahassee Democrat. 

What is Permaculture?: 

Permaculture Design Course:

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Ultimate compost bin

The new VegHeadz compost bins drew a lot of attention at the recent open house at the Leon County UF/IFAS extension. Designed by Mike Dugger with input from VegHeadz volunteers, and constructed by Mike, Glenn Berman and Buddy Holzhauser, the new bins provide space for hands on compost workshops resulting in great compost for our garden, and space for storing purchased or scavenged garden amendments. By popular request Mike has designed a smaller version for home use with two bins 3 x 3 x 4. Drawing and material list below.  Thanks to all who contributed to this project which is part of the ongoing upgrade of the Bed 5 and vegetable garden areas.