Monday, December 9, 2019

Aji Dulce Peppers

We have been quite successful in growing Aji Dulce peppers in the VegHeadz garden.  We first grew them from seeds obtained at the Leon County Seed Library Program co-sponsored by the Leon County Library, Sustainable Tallahassee, and the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension.  Aji Dulce looks like a very hot Scotch Bonnet pepper but is much milder and has a smoky flavor.  It is known as the Sweet Habanero and translates to “sweet chili pepper” in English.  It is often referred to variously as aji cachucha, ajicito, or aji gustoso. 

Schoville Heat Units are the measure of heat in peppers.  For instance the Habanero aka Scotch Bonnet registers 100,000 to 350,000 SHUs while the ubiquitous Jalapeno ranges from 3,000 to 8,000.  While slightly spicy, the Aji Dulce ranges only from 0 to 1,000 SHUs.  Some are just sweet and some are mildly spicy—perfect for salads or salsas, or for pickling and using in sandwiches or stuffing with cheese. 

The Aji Dulce is the traditional pepper used in Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean to make Sofrito, a sauce that is used as a base in Latin American, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese cooking.  There are many regional variations on the sauce with some adding tomatoes, some which add bay leaves, carrots, or chorizo and other ingredients, but most contain garlic and all contain peppers.  It can be used as a base for pasta sauces, sautéed vegetables, soups, stews, beans, meats, rice, or in dips and spreads.

In the tropics this pepper is grown as a perennial.  In our area it has a very long producing season but will die back in freezing weather.  Start the seeds inside under grow lights in mid-January and set seedlings out after the last frost in mid-March.  Grown in compost-enriched garden soil, it takes no special care and matures to a compact shrubby plant about three feet tall and wide with a profusion of 1 to 2 inch peppers which start green and mature into brilliant yellows and reds.  A delightful plant. 

Here is a Sofrito recipe for your peppers.  Many others are available from various sources online. 


12 large Aji Dulce peppers
1 small bunch cilantro
1 head garlic
1 red bell pepper
½ green pepper
1 yellow onion
1 Tbsp. each capers, oregano and pepper
¼ cup pimento-stuffed olives
½ cup olive oil

Process all ingredients in food processor to texture of semi-chunky salsa.  Use at once, refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze in recipe-size batches. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Winter in the VegHeadz Garden

Sherry, Becky, Angelique, Peggy, Regine and Louie--Just a few of the many helpers in the garden this morning
We had a lovely cool morning in the garden this week, with lots of new volunteers to help weed and mulch.  It's amazing how much can get done in a couple hours with willing hands.  Winter has been kind to our garden so far, with greens, herbs, and leafy vegetables in abundance.  The cover crops in bare spaces are coming along nicely and will be adding nutrients and organic matter to our soil as we continue to improve the fertility of the garden with "green manure."  Bean and sweet potato vines have been cut and used as mulch in many of the beds to decompose in place.  A few nectar producing flowers remain, such as Dune Sunflower and Cosmos to feed the adjoining bee colony.  The unobtrusive little Camellia Sinensis tea camellia in our tea garden is blooming.  Hard to believe all the non-herbal tea on the shelves comes from this plant.  It is the source of green, white and black tea, with the age of the leaves and processing methods creating the different varieties.  Come join us any Wednesday morning to share in the work, learning experience, and community. 


Forest Garden in Winter

Tea Camellia (Camellia sinensis)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Fall in the VegHeadz Garden

The late summer we experienced in North Florida has allowed us to grow summer vegetables long into the fall.  A couple of weeks ago our last summer harvest included sweet potatoes, peppers, and Jerusalem artichokes, a member of the Sunflower family that produces rhizomes that can be eaten fresh or cooked with a texture much like water chestnuts.
A variety of sweet potatoes

Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
The fall vegetables are well under way also.  They include mustard, collards, broccoli, radishes, kale, lettuce, arugula, carrots, and more. 

Mustard greens
Mustard and Kale on
Hugelkultur bed

One of our new ventures has been growing Trail of Tears black pole beans on a couple of our arbors.  They have done well and are still producing beautiful dried black beans to enjoy all winter long.  We just have to plant more of them.

Trail of Tears black pole beans

Black beans, dried in shell
Finally, we have been trying a new technique for mulching the fruit trees in the forest garden.  We began with a ring of small brush around each tree, followed by a ring of green sweet potato vines we had just pulled up. On top of that we added wood chip mulch.  We left an open ring around each trunk of at least 4 inches on all sides, sometimes more, to discourage diseases and funguses.  The brush creates an air space so roots will not be compressed and will receive plenty of air.  The sweet potato vines and mulch will create an insulating air blanket and will generate a small amount of heat as they decompose.  The entire ring of mulch will continue to decompose throughout the winter and spring, providing nutrients to the trees as they put on new growth in the new year. 

Adding layers of mulch around fruit trees.  

Thursday, October 10, 2019

More about Roselle and a Couple of Great Resources

If you want to know more about sustainable gardening and topics such as pest management, cover crops, and soil health, SARE and SSARE are great resources.   SSARE is Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a federally funded organization operating out of the University of Georgia which provides information and funding to further sustainable agricultural practices.  We have found their information to be extremely helpful in developing the gardening practices we follow today. 

Another newly discovered and comprehensive source of information on growing edibles in Florida is Florida Edibles.  This site, started six years ago by two Master Gardeners from Sarasota County, covers vegetables, fruit trees, and "other edibles," including Roselle.   In fact, we discovered this site when permission was requested to include some of the information on Roselle we have developed.  Links to our blog post on removing the seed capsules and to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat on Roselle and other edible hibiscus are now included in their information on Roselle.  Each entry includes complete information on the plant selected including propagation, cultivation, selection, and harvest for every imaginable edible which can be grown in Florida.  Links to UF publications and other resources relating to the selected plant are also included. 

To add to our growing collection of Roselle information and lore, click on the links below for recipes from our Roselle Queen, Peggy McDonald for Roselle drinks including Hibiscus Tea, and Roselle Jam.  Also included is a link to a previous post with a recipe for Roselle preserved in syrup which is great over ice cream or in the bottom of a glass of wine or champagne, and a recipe for Roselle sauce similar to cranberry sauce from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  We've used this sauce as a topping for cheesecake with great success. 

From three Roselle plants started from seed she saved, Peggy has harvested over 30 pounds of calyxes already this season and there are at least that many left to develop and harvest.  She is busy making jam as are several other VegHeadz gardeners.  Peggy's jam will be available for tasting on Sunday, October 13, 2019, at the VegHeadz garden during the 2019 Sustainable Tallahassee Farm Tours.  The garden at 615 Paul Russell Road, Tallahassee, will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. 

Roselle Drinks

Roselle Jam

Roselle Sauce

Roselle Preserved in Syrup

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Farm Tours and Community Gardens

Two great events of interest to gardeners are coming up on Saturday and Sunday, October 12 and 13.  A number of community gardens in our area will be open on Saturday, Oct. 12. Hands-on workshops on raising blueberries, home orchards, crop rotation, cover crops, composting, and planting fall vegetables will be held throughout the day.  Follow the link to see a list of the gardens, hours they will be open, and the times for the workshops at each location. Pick a garden close to you, or the workshops you are interested in.

Community Garden Open Houses

The 2019 Farm tours sponsored by Sustainable Tallahassee and Millstone Plantation are being held on Oct. 11 and 12.  Our own VegHeadz Demo Vegetable Garden and Edible Food Forest are on the tour this year and will be open on Sunday, Oct 13 from 9 am to 3 pm.  At the VegHeadz Garden come see fruit trees and edible perennials growing as an Edible Forest Garden, fall annual crops, cover crops, water capturing swales, and more.  Follow link below for a complete list of farms and gardens open that weekend.

12th Annual Farm Tours

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Did you know a banana is a berry?
This has been a good year for bananas.  Last winter was a warm one and our bananas did not die back as they do in a "normal" year.

Bananas usually take two years to produce fruit in our area and they are not freeze-tolerant, so a mild winter is necessary for fruiting.  They will usually survive down to 28 degrees.  Frozen plants should be cut back to good growth in the spring.  Even if they freeze to the ground, they will usually return from the underground rhizomes.

Once a stalk bears, it should be cut to the ground as it will not bear again.  It is recommended that clumps consist of three plants, a large bearing-size stalk, a medium stalk, and a small shoot.  

When the banana stalk develops, the bloom at the bottom will descend, and the exposed stalk and bloom  may be cut off to encourage better development of the fruit.   Unfortunately the tree pictured is too tall to reach the stalk.  Perhaps the tree will have to be cut down to harvest the bananas.
If the frost threatens before the bananas are ripe, cut the stalk and ripen the bananas inside.  They will ripen inside at any time after the bananas are fully developed.  Bananas like a lot of water and a lot of nutrients.  For all you need to know about growing bananas, the difference between plantains and bananas and much more information see:

Even if your bananas are not as sweet as those at the grocery store, they make great banana bread.  The recipe below was developed one year when the banana trees in back of the office where I worked bore 18 stalks of bananas giving a friend and I ample opportunity to test many banana bread recipes.  This was our favorite.

Banana Bread 

 1/2  cup (1 stick) butter           
1  cup sugar
2 eggs
1  Tbsp. vanilla
1  cup mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk (or substitute 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup sour cream)
2  cups sifted flour 
1  tsp. baking soda
1  tsp. salt
1  cup nuts, chopped

Cream butter and sugar together.  Beat in eggs, then bananas, milk, and vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients except nuts.  Add to banana mixture, stirring lightly to mix.  Fold in nuts.  Pour into greased and floured 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.   The pan should be about three-fourths full.  (Makes one large loaf, two smaller loaves or four mini loaves.) Bake at 350 degrees about 60 minutes, less for smaller loaves, until pick inserted in center comes out clean.

The flour can be white or whole wheat or a combination.  Oat bran or oatmeal pulverized in food processor is also good as part of the flour.  The sugar can be all white or half white and half brown.  (For brown, pack when measuring).  The riper the bananas, the better.  In fact, when bananas get too ripe to eat, store them in the freezer, peel and all.  When ready to use, thaw until just soft, peel and pour into cup to measure.  They look really yucky, but the banana bread they make is moist, sweet and strong in banana flavor.

UF/IFAS One-Stop Site for solving Garden Problems

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has launched a new one-stop site for accessing information to diagnose garden and plant problems.  Information can be found there on plant insects and diseases, integrated pest management (IPM), soil and water, weeds, and more.  If you can't diagnose your problem, resources are available to help you locate someone who can.  Put this site on your desktop or home screen.  You'll be using it a lot.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pickled Green Tomatoes

Getting tired of the last few tomatoes hanging on your vines?  Maybe there’s some small green ones still left. Try this recipe I found recently online to preserve some Everglades tomatoes that are producing so well they are going to waste. The recipe can also be used for pickling almost any vegetable—beans, onions, peppers, what have you. It’s a good way to enjoy our summer bounty long past the growing season. 

Pickled Green Tomatoes aka Tomolives
Makes four pints or two quarts of pickles
2 qt cherry tomatoes or about 6-8 full size tomatoes – firm and very green
2.5 c water
2.5 c white vinegar
3 T kosher salt
3 T sugar
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 T coriander seed
4 T yellow mustard seed
4 T black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
4 small red chiles, optional

Bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar plus the garlic clove to boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Boil 5 minutes. Poke a hole with a toothpick, knife blade or skewer in each of the cherry tomatoes.  Quarter the whole tomatoes.  Pack into sterilized jars.  Add 1 T each of the seeds, 1 bay leaf and one chile to each pint jar. Double the quantities if you are using quarts.  Pour the hot brine over the tomatoes. Cover and allow to cool.  Refrigerate for a week before sampling.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Done and Filled, Ready to Plant

In the Beginning

Last Week
The new raised beds are finally done, filled with garden soil and ready to plant.  Planning the fall garden will be a lot a fun.  Metal arches mark the three entrances into the garden and will be planted with vining vegetables and pollinator plants.  The four sets of three beds in graduating sizes will be used in the vegetable crop rotation for annual vegetables in the garden.  The VegHeadz Crop Rotation and Sustainable Gardening Guide can be found under Resources on the left side of the blog as well as a diagram of the garden, and the new Tea Garden and Forest Garden Plant Lists.  We just learned that the VegHeadz garden will be on the Annual Fall Farm Tour agenda October 11 and 12 with our garden being open on Sunday, October 12.  We'll keep you posted with further details as plans develop. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Good Bugs

Cara Fleischer and emerging ladybugs
Cara Fleischer is a Leon Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor, a Creation Care leader at St. Paul's United Methodist Church and the co-leader of Tallahassee Citizens' Climate Lobby.  She is on a mission to spread information about sustainable living.  At the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Open House this spring, she released many, many ladybugs into the VegHeadz garden.  Ladybugs provide biological control of aphids and many other pests and diseases.  Biological pest control is an important part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).  To learn more about how this works and about Cara's ladybug mission, explore the links below.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The New Raised Beds are Finished!!!

Would you believe it!  The semi-circle of twelve raised beds in the VegHeadz garden has been completed thanks to faithful and talented Master Gardener volunteers Mike Dugger, Glenn Berman, Buddy Holzhauser, and Howard Kirk.  They are wonderful!

Three of the beds were planted for the spring growing season and are flourishing.  All beds will be filled and ready for fall planting.  The beds are deep, so we are gathering plant material, small logs, brush from non-invasive trees, and even several whole banana trees which were thinned to add to the bottom of the beds.  Most vegetables require only the first 6 to 8 inches of soil to thrive.  The materials in the bottom of the beds are being added to reduce the amount of gardening soil need, and also to furnish a continuing source of nutrients.  As the base materials decompose, they will help conserve moisture and provide compost for crops.  Additional compost and mulches will be added to the top as the decomposition process lowers the soil level. 

The Master Gardening irrigation team under the direction of Master Gardener Dwight Arnold will be adding micro-irrigation to the beds.  The four wedges of three beds each will be incorporated into our rotation schedule to help control pests and diseases from season to season. 

Stay tuned as we continue to realize our dreams for the vegetable demonstration garden at UF/IFAS Leon County Extension.. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Summer in the VegHeadz Garden

Guided tour through the VegHeadz garden during
Spring Open House
Summer has been busy in the VegHeadz garden.  We started off in the spring with preparations for the Spring Open House in May.  Our garden was in fine shape and we had a lot of visitors and interest in our compost bins, edible food forest, and new beds under construction, as well as our usual vegetables and herbs. 

Compost bin tour and instruction
Work continues on the new beds and those that are planted are flourishing.  The VegHeadz are collecting about 10 pounds of vegetables a week for delivery to the Homeless Shelter, even at this late date in the summer gardening season. 

Glenn and Buddy, our builders, confer with Dwight
Arnold, head of irrigation for the garden
Our thornless blackberries are
producing a bumper crop

Edible Forest Garden, thriving with earlier
plantings and cover crops

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.