Friday, June 16, 2017

VegHeadz Garden update

Veggies harvested last week
We wanted to show off our haul of veggies from the VegHeadz garden for the past couple of weeks.  All were delivered to the Homeless Shelter where Food Services Director, Bill Schack, says they use them in salads, soups, stir fries, and veggie lasagna.  We've donated over 120 lbs. of vegetables this year to help furnish healthy food for those in need. 

The bugs have been kind to us throughout this season.  We've seen some worms in cucumbers and squash, but very few stinkbugs, corn worms, squash borers, and the other usual suspects.  We're keeping our fingers crossed.  I'm sure Laurie's good supply of perennials which attract pollinators and predator bugs are playing a large part.

We've had plenty of tomatoes and peppers on our plants, so pollination isn't a factor, but few fruit on squash and cucumbers.  Just another garden mystery. 

This weeks crop

Green Filet beans.  We've had a good crop this year

Thursday, April 6, 2017

VegHeadz Garden Update

I hadn't realized how long it has been since we've posted an update on the VegHeadz garden.   Spring planting is almost done and majny crops are already growing. Preparations are underway to move some of our garden into a sunnier area in Bed 5 North of the present garden.   New design plans are underway for Bed 5 which is the tropical horticultural garden. Stay tuned for future developments.

Peggy, Mike, Larry, Cathy, Louie
This morning we welcomed  Master Gardener Larry Lesko back into the garden.   He brought by some large cardboard sheets for use in our mulching effort as we reclaim some of the new space from weeds and unwanted plants. We were delighted to see him.  Thanks for coming by and for the cardboard, Larry.  .

And while Larry isn't really a visitor, but a member of the VegHeadz who is on "furlough", we welcome visitors to the garden anytime.  We are working in the garden on most Wednesday mornings so stop by and see us.

Thanks to Peggy McDonald for the great pictures of the garden taken last week (see above and below).

Tomatoes growing on either side of the trellis
formerly occupied by spring peas


One of the 4-H beds - Kale and Peas, and another
bed behind it with a winter cover crop of clover

The kiwis we planted last fall are looking
good and climbing toward the
top of the pergola

We should have gotten the name of this tree.  It lives just North of our
garden in Bed 5, and is really showing off this month. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

VegHeadz Garden Happenings

Cathi W, Mike, Marie and Cathy A enjoying the hard work]
loading composted horse manure for our bins
Last week we replenished our compost bins with well-rotted horse manure mixed with hay and straw bedding.  We were able to get three loads thanks to VegHeadz volunteers and Nicki Francis of Happy Trails Horse Ranch.  Thanks Nicki! 
Based on a fall soil test, we are adding compost, greensand (for potassium and trace minerals), and peat moss and Sulphur (to lower pH), to our gardening beds.  Observing our plants and another test in the fall will let us know how well we did.
This week, we learned about using a broadfork.  We added the amendments above to the three A rows where Marie will be planting potatoes and green peas next week.  We left the clover cover crop in place, added the amendments and then worked down the row with the broadfork to partially incorporate the cover crop and amendments, and to aerate the soil.  Marie will be adding oak leaves as mulch after the plants come up.  It will be interesting to see how the potatoes and peas fare.  Visit our Facebook page to see Carole getting her morning workout on the broadfork.  It's heavy and requires some effort to lift the soil. 
We also moved a fence trellis into one row for the peas to grow on.  Marie is adding some cheap and creative trellises to another row.  We're thinking of all the visitors we hope to get at the Spring Open House, tentatively scheduled for May 13.  Hold a place on your calendar for this fun event and plant sale.
Lots of other plans are under way, including applying for a grant to re-fence the garden (a happy armadillo is making of mess of our pathways), and we can't grow lettuce without a secure cover as a creative creature (probably a rabbit), munches down the row until its gone.  Also under consideration is moving a portion of the garden into a sunnier location in Bed 5 which is just North of the garden. 
Welcome to new gardener Peggy McDonald who is one of the Master Gardening students in the new class just under way.  She is a real worker and a welcome addition to our crew. 

Garden Inspiration

When visiting the Pumpkin Place Community Garden near Lake Jackson recently, we spied a neat garden.  A creative gardener had established three beds in kiddie pools and was growing beautiful lettuce and greens.  If you try this, remember to poke holes in the bottom of the pool for drainage so you don't drown your plants. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Unofficial Completely Subjective Kale Taste Test

Master Gardener Louie Doll, one of the VegHeadz, planted seven different kinds of Kale in one of the raised beds at the VegHeadz garden.  They were planted from seed, and all germinated nicely except Lacinato.  Must have been some bad seed.  But we were able to include Lacinato in our taste test since there was some planted from seedlings in the 4-H beds.

The types of kale tasted were:  Lacinato, Red Russian, Blue Scotch Curled, Red Winter, Siberian Dwarf Improved, and Dwarf Blue Curled Vates.  In the tightly controlled testing, several VegHeadz plucked a piece of a leaf from each type of kale, ate it, and then we compared notes.  The unanimous winners were the Dwarf Siberian and the Dwarf Blue Curled Vates, the very best of all.  The individual criteria for "best" seemed to be tenderness and "sweetness" as in lack of bitterness.

The main thing we learned is that each variety tasted slightly different, and since all but the Lacinato were grown in the same bed under the same conditions, we assumed it was differences in variety, although different growing conditions can produce taste differences also. 

It was fun, and you should try your own taste test.  It's a good idea to plant several different varieties of any vegetable as each variety not only tastes different, but is more or less susceptable to pests and diseases, and more or less tolerant of various growing conditions.  Planting different varieties increases the chances you will have at least one variety that does well. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fun in the Garden - Roselle

Roselle Calyx
A new addition to our perennial garden at the VegHeadz garden drew a lot of interest at the Fall Festival and from our volunteer gardeners.  Roselle Hibiscus sabdariffa) or Jamaican Sorrell, or Flor de Jamaica is a wild hibiscus grown in many tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. 

We successfully grew it from seed we planted this Spring.  We will see if it is truly perennial in our area, or if we will need to reseed it next Spring.

It is a beautiful plant with pale yellow flowers with a red area at the base of each petal.  The flowers yielded to beautiful deep red calyxes which contain a seed capsule inside. 

All parts of the plant are edible, and provide a tart refreshing taste to salads and other dishes.  The plant is grown for fiber from the stems which is used in making burlap, and the calyxes are harvested for use as food coloring and in teas, drinks, jams and sauces.  They can be used fresh or dried.  The basic ingredient in Red Zinger tea is dried Roselle.

Internet references are confusing as they often refer to hibiscus flowers when it is actually the calyx that is being sold or used.

Roselle Flower

Before using the calyxes, you must remove the seed capsule.  It is hard to do this with out demolishing the petals of the calyx, but with a simple tool this can be accomplished rather easily.  We found a foot long section of 1/2" copper tubing in the plumbing section at Lowe's.  It had the advantage of being closed on one end to avoid injury while using it.  You may want to wear gloves when removing the seed capsules as the calyx will be slightly crushed and stain your hands.  It does wash off easily though. 

Insert tool into the bottom of the calyx.  We sharpened ours just
a bit to make it easier to cut through

Twist and push the pipe through the layers at the bottom of the
calyx into the seed capsule and out through the top of the calyx

The seed capsule is not yet mature.  To save seeds allow it
to mature and open on the plant

Calyxes ready for drying or use in teas, sauces, and drinks
A friend had given us a small jar of "Wild Hibiscus in Syrup," which is in fact these very calyxes preserved in sugar syrup.  We have now made our own.  See recipe below.  Pour a little of the syrup in the bottom of a wine glass and add one of the preserved calyxes.  Carefully add white wine or champagne much in the manner of making Kir.  Delicious.  Or use as a sauce over ice cream or pound cake, or add to fruit salad.  They can be cooked and used like cranberry sauce and taste very similar.  Before cooking, wash the calyxes well to remove any grit or other foreign matter.

The calyxes are rich in Vitamin C and other beneficial compounds.  We've enjoyed watching this beautiful plant develop and yield its secrets.  Thanks to Farnaz Khoshbakht who was visiting in the garden for the photos. 

Roselle Calyxes Preserved in Syrup
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups whole Roselle calyxes (1 cup if chopped)
Heat the sugar and water until sugar is completely dissolved.  Add washed calyxes, bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer.  Continue cooking until liquid is reduced by one-third.  Cool.  Strain if you wish just syrup or leave whole calyxes in the syrup to use in cocktails and desserts.  The syrup will remain fresh in the refrigerator for up to a year.   

Dont' Kill Anonymous Bugs

Milkweed Assassin bug nymphs
Master Gardener Glenn Berman was worried about these bugs he found on milkweeds in his yard.  After some inquiries and research, he determined they were Milkweed Assassin bug nymphs.  Great!  Assassin bugs prey on other insects and are very beneficial for your garden.  More about Milkweed Assassin bugs here

The first instinct on seeing an infestation like this is to get rid of these dangerous looking pests.  It's very important to identify the bugs in your garden as you might be destroying some of your most helpful partners.

Other nymphs that look similar to this are Leaf-footed bug nymphs.  As you can see from Glenn's photo, the nymphs look different at different stages of their development.  Some bad nymphs resemble each other or good nymphs or lady bugs, and the confusion goes on. 

It's worth the effort to do a bug ID search before you kill.  And solving a mystery is part of what's fun in the garden. 

Milkweed Assassin bug adult
Leaf-footed bug nymphs

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Growing Vegetables in the Shade

If you missed the recent article in the Tallahassee Democrat about growing vegetables in the Shade, it's available on the right side bar of this blog under the heading Guest Articles in the Tallahassee Democrat.  Another recent one is an article about the varieties of broccoli which grow better in our area. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bacterial Wilt in Tomatoes

Photo courtesy of University of Florida IFAS

Although Bacterial Wilt is said to be a prevalent problem in the Southeast and Florida, we had not experienced it in the VegHeadz Demo garden until this past growing season.  Tomatoes in one raised bed would suddenly wilt -- the whole plant -- and soon die.  The problem was immediately diagnosed by our supervising Extension Agent, Trevor Hylton.  Glenn Berman is the coordinator for that bed, a square foot garden, and he felt challenged to find a solution.  After researching the problem he determined there is not much to be done about the problem, as it is resistant to treatment, and infects the soil in the bed for many years.  See more including identification pictures at:    Bacterial Wilt of Tomato - IFAS

The only solution is to grow varieties of  tomatoes (as well as peppers, eggplant, potatoes, etc., - members of the Salonaceae family) which are bred to be resistant to bacterial wilt.  Glenn located three varieties that were advertised by their sellers to be resistant.  He planted them in the same spot as the tomatoes which had succumbed to the disease.  Only one variety has survived so far - Kewalo.  Glenn planted two of this variety which he had grown from seed, and both are surviving and beginning to bloom. 

This brings to the fore a caution about interpreting and relying on descriptions of plants when you buy seeds or seedlings.  Words like "tolerant of" and "resistant to" don't necessarily mean the plant will be free of disease when grown in an infected location. 

Below is a list of the varieties Glenn grew and the exact description of each provided in the seed catalogs of the companies where he bought them.

Tropic Boy - Evergreen Seeds

"Tropic Boy is a hybrid tomato developed by Takii Seed Company in Japan. Plants are indeterminate and produce large size fruits, 220 grams in weight, with green shouldered and turn to red when matured. This variety is vigorous grower, 6-7 loculi and 5-6 fruits per cluster. Fruits have tough skin and firm meat and crack free, suitable for long distance shipping.  The plant is high tolerant to Bacterial wilt, Fusarium, Nematode and Stemphylium attacks. Very good for tropical area productions."

Neptune - Southern Exposure Seed

"An early- to mid-season fresh market tomato specially bred for heat tolerance and resistance to bacteria wilt which is prevalent in the Southeast and Florida.  Recommended for gardeners and market growers in hot, humid, rainy growing regions where it is difficult to grow tomatoes.  4-oz. red fruits in clusters of 2-4 on short vines.  (67 days determinate)"

Kewalo – Tomato Growers Supply

"This round, red tomato from the University of Hawaii is tolerant to both nematodes and bacterial wilt, serious problems in tropical and sub-tropical climates. It is the only open-pollinated variety we know of that can boast of these traits. While it is well suited for the tropics, it is well adapted to more temperate areas also. Determinate. 78 days."


Friday, September 16, 2016

Garden Expansion Update

The new keyhole beds at the VegHeadz garden are coming right along.  Cardboard has been laid over the existing cardboard (now mostly decomposed) and mulch that we placed there last spring.  Additional mulch has been applied over the cardboard on all pathways surrounding the beds.  Soil from an area in the back of the garden which has built up from the addition of wood chips, compost and other amendments has been moved into the planting areas of the beds.

Compost will be applied over this before planting. These beds will be used for greens such as collards and kale during the fall season and once the seedlings are in place, a thick layer of oak leaf mulch will be added.  Voila!  New garden beds.

Thanks to bed "T" coordinator Carole Hayes and all our other faithful VegHeadz who have been working hard the last couple of weeks to get it in shape. It's looking good!