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!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

VegHeadz Garden Expansion

A new area of the VegHeadz garden is under development to provide growing space with more sun.  An area at the back of the garden previously known as the D rows for rotation purposes has been moved to the top of the garden and joined with two existing raised beds to become beds T1 (for top), T2, T3, and T4.  The new area has been laid out as two keyhole beds as pictured above.  They will include flowers as well as the vegetable varieties designated on our rotation schedule each season.  Thanks to Carole and her hard-working crew, these beds should be ready for the Fall Festival and garden open house scheduled for October 22.  Put it on your calendar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August in the Garden

Don't forget to consult Gardener Ed's posts about what to do in the garden each month.  His advice about what to do in the garden in August is the featured article, on the right of the blog screen.

We've also added a new feature--VegHeadz guest articles published in our local newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat.   Material for most of these articles comes from our experience in the VegHeadz garden at the Leon County IFAS  Extension and is applicable to all gardens in the North Florida area.  If you missed them when they were in the the Democrat, check them out.  The links to the articles are also at the right of your screen. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Cherry Tomatoes

Today we'll share another quick, easy, and delicious recipe for cherry tomatoes.  There are still plenty growing, but better enjoy them now, as they will soon be gone.

8 oz. Papparedelle or fettuccine (the wider noodles work best)
2  to 2 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes (if large, cut in half)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large or 6 small garlic cloves
Pinch of sugar
Red pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup shredded fresh basil and parsley
Freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Pasta cooking water or wine (optional)

Bring large pot of water to boil and add pasta.  Cook to al dente.  In the meantime, add olive oil to saute pan and heat on medium high.  Add garlic, then tomatoes, sugar, and pepper flakes, and reduce to medium.  Saute until most of tomatoes have burst and released their juices.  Add salt and pepper to taste and then basil and parsley.  If mixture appears dry add a little of the pasta water or a little  wine.  Drain pasta and add to tomatoes.  Mix to combine.    Add grated cheese to each serving. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Conversations in the Garden

Conversation thrives in the VegHeadz garden while we are pulling weeds and harvesting our crops.  We share personal and gardening information, have teaching moments with plants and bugs, enjoy visits from our supporting Extension Agents, and laugh a lot.   One of the fun things is sharing recipes.  With an abundance of squash and tomatoes this year in gardens and farmers markets, we decided to share a couple of the simple and delicious recipes we have talked about this week while harvesting squash and tomatoes.  Enjoy

Sam's Sauteed Squash and Eggs

3 or 4 medium  yellow crookneck squash (ideally smaller and a few more)
Slice thinly and saute lightly in olive oil until just becoming a bit tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix  2 large eggs with about 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Pour mixture into pan with squash and cook till eggs are set.  Continue to scramble the combination together. (or fold like an omelet, or cook top in oven like a frittata).  When eggs are done, serve.  Cold leftovers are delicious!!!

Summer Spaghetti

2 1/2 cups (about 1 lb.) peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh tomatoes (Dip in boiling water for 45 - 60 seconds before peeling) (or just chop with the skins on--slightly different sauce, but still delicious)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. shredded fresh basil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic (about 2 med. cloves)
6 to 8 pitted green olives, chopped
2 tsp. capers
1 1/2 Tbsp. wine vinegar or lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. each dried oregano and crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. each paprika and pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
8 to 12 oz. spaghetti or other pasta

Combine all ingredients except pasta in a large bowl.  Let stand at room temperature for an hour, or refrigerate up to 8 hours.  Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.  Add the hot pasta to the tomato mixture and toss well.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4-6.  The contact of the cold sauce with the hot pasta releases a unique and delicious aroma and flavor.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trap Plants

Leaf-footed bug on giant sunflower
We discovered more bugs in the garden on Wednesday and learned something  about trap plants.  Extension agents Trevor Hylton, Mark Tancig and Horticultural Assistant Kelly Thomas joined us in the garden.  We identified and removed a few Army Worms and Leaf Footed Bugs from various vegetables.  The infestation was light for this time of year, particularly after the mild winter we experienced.  One reason may be trap plants.

Laurie has planted giant sunflowers around the garden, and we have left some other plants that appeared attractive to bugs as evidenced by their leaves.  We have a Pokeweed in the perennial area that looks like lace.  No other plant in the garden has been so well-liked by munching pests.  We haven't identified the culprits yet, but we are happy to furnish them an alternate menu.

Bug-eaten pokeweed
We removed army worms from several plants including one that was feasting on a young eggplant.  Army worms are the larvae of a grayish brown moth which sometimes has distinctive spots on it's wings.  The most common are the Fall Army Worm (which is evident in all seasons), and the Southern Army Worm.  They eat plant leaves and bore into fruit.  The greenish or light-colored eggs are laid in clusters on the underside of leaves.  A layer of scales is deposited among and over the eggs giving them a fuzzy or moldy appearance.  Bt, Horticultural oil sprays and Neem oil are somewhat effective as well as hand picking where practical.    Natural predators are birds and other insects, including a number of wasps.  See more about army worms at

Army worm on eggplant
Hole where Army worm was removed
Our best discovery was multiple leaf-footed bugs and their nymphs on our first giant sunflower bloom.  We only found a few of the adults on our other plants, but the sunflower was bug city.  We thought about killing them with insecticide, but not many work on leaf-footed bugs, and there was concern about the bees which frequent our garden.  Then Mark asked if we had tried shaking them off.  Well that was just too simple.
We added a couple of tablespoons of dishwashing liquid to a few inches of water in a bucket, held the flower head over the bucket, tapped it vigorously, and bugs and nymphs fell into the soapy water, never to plague us again.  We're sure there are plenty others lurking in the vegetable plants, but we interrupted the life cycle of those we found.  See more about leaf-footed bugs in our previous post. 

Nymphs of leaf-footed bugs on Giant Sunflower

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pest Alert - Some Bad Bugs in the VegHeadz Garden

Squash vine borer moth
Leon County UF/IFAS Extension Horticultural Assistant Kelly Thomas makes a tour through the vegetable garden most mornings.  This week she noted several "bad" bugs on plants and captured these photos.. 

The  squash vine borer moth is the guy responsible for the sudden collapse of seemingly healthy squash plants.  It lays its eggs on the base of the squash stem.  When they hatch, the larvae bore into the vine and feed there which eventually leads to the collapse of the plant as pathways for water and nutrients are severed by the larvae.  The borer hole can be seen, often with a little pile of frass (bug excrement and plant material) beside it.  Sometimes cutting a slit in the vine and removing the maggot will save the plant if detected early.  Wrapping tinfoil around the base of unaffected squash stems may prevent the borers from entering the stem.  Capturing and killing the moth is a preventive measure, but that is difficult.  However, they fly during the day unlike most moths which fly at night.  The moth resembles a wasp in flight.  They overwinter in the soil, emerging in the spring.  . 

Citrus flatid leaf hopper
The leafhopper or plant hopper at right is also a pest, but it doesn’t do much damage. Kelly found it on an eggplant.  It eats sap from the stem and produces honeydew that ants and bees feed on. The white material produced by the nymphs is sometimes mistaken for mealybugs.  The adults resemble a small white moth, and the nymphs are white also.  They can also be found on citrus and other woody trees and shrubs.  They may be prey for predator wasps. 

The real bad boys are the Leaf-footed bugs shown below.  Kelly says they are breeding like crazy in our garden. They come from a large family of sap-sucking bugs.  They get their name from the leaf-like enlargements or flaps on their hind legs.  They are closely related to stink bugs which are also sap-suckers.  They feed mostly on seeds of tomatoes and other plants such as pomegranates.   Their eggs are brown and cylindrical and laid in a string on a plant leaf or stem.  They should be located and destroyed when possible.    The adults live a relatively long life and lay eggs over a protracted period,  Major outbreaks occur after mild winters, and their population also depends on the amount of natural predators, weather, and food available.   They have piercing and sucking mouth parts which they use to probe into a tomato looking for seeds.  When they find one, they excrete an enzyme which liquifies the seed which they then suck out.  Their damage may destroy small tomatoes, but on larger ones, it leaves a small depression or discoloration in the fruit which does not affect its edibility.  They can be captured and drowned in soapy water.  They can be vacuumed with a hand vacuum.  Shaking the plant can sometimes dislodge nymphs which can be destroyed when they fall to the ground (lay down some paper or something light first so you can see them), but the adults will fly away.  Their predators include birds, spiders, some predator wasps, and tachinid flies.  Application of pyrethrins or other insecticides is problematic as the bugs usually appear when fruit is near harvest.  In addition, any insecticides which may be effective also kill beneficial insects which prey on these bugs and other pests. 

See the Pest Control Solutions chart from Native Nurseries . 

Leaf-footed bug

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Bug ID - Good or Bad?

I had seen clusters of these insect eggs on kale and other plants in my garden a number of times this spring.  The first time I pinched them reflexively, then tried to determine what they were without success , the second time I left them alone, thinking they might be something helpful.  The third time, there was a huge cluster of them, and I took them to the Leon County UF/IFAS Extension office where Horticultural agent Mark Tancig and his assistant Kelly Thomas solved the mystery.

They are indeed good bugs, and they are not eggs at all.  If you look close, you can see they are a little fuzzy.  They are the cocoons of a parasitoid braconid wasp which preys on the cabbage butterfly.  The cabbage butterfly larvae feed on the cabbage, and the wasps, which can be as small as 1/8" lay their eggs on or in the butterfly larvae.  The eggs hatch and eat the cabbage worm from the inside,  emerging after killing the host caterpillar and then spin this cocoon, eventually emerging from the cocoon  as a new wasp to repeat the cycle.  You will see a little black spot or hole in the end of the cocoon when the wasp has emerged.

There are over  15,000 species of braconid wasps identified worldwide with over 2000 in the US, and many more which are unidentified, maybe as many as 50,000 species.  It's mind boggling.  Braconid wasps also prey on other insects, including aphids and some beetles.  As adults they are pollinators, feeding on nectar and pollen.

For more information about these non-stinging little helpers and how to attract them, refer to an article in Mother Earth News along with some university links furnished there. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Garden at Kearney Center/Homeless Shelter

Spring vegetables have been planted and are growing well.  Micro irrigation has been installed and is working well.  The fall vegetables received rave reviews from kitchen staff and residents.  Everyone is looking forward to the summer harvest of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Open House at the Demo Garden, Saturday May 7, 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Elaine preparing beds for planting

The VegHeadz are busy getting ready for the Open House on May 7.   Spring vegetables are growing well, and the perennial edibles are beginning to make an appearance.  They usually look their best during summer and fall. 

We'll be selling cuttings from some of our perennial vegetables at the plant sale, and seedlings from our beautiful fall-blooming sunflowers.  There'll be lots of other plants for sale also. 

Come stroll through the six horticulture gardens, xeriscape garden (no water), fruit orchard, and much more.  Exhibits, bee hives, refreshments, music.  All for your enjoyment.

In vegetable garden we'll be showing off our spring and summer vegetables in conventional rows, raised beds, square foot, hydroponic, and container gardens.   Master Gardeners and Extension Agents will be on hand throughout the gardens to guide you and answer questions.   Come join us in the garden on May 7.  We look forward to seeing you.

Cathy getting mushroom compost

Some of the VegHeadz after we had retrieved two
truckloads of horse droppings mixed with sawdust to
add to our compost bins