Monday, February 26, 2024

Banana Ripening Update

Our bananas looked like this
in December
The VegHeadz had several good bunches of bananas on their plants last fall, but they did not have time to fill out completely when cold weather hit, stopping their development.  

While bananas ripen better off the tree, in order to reach their full potential they should have plump sides before cutting the stalk down. We assumed that because they were not fully developed, they would not be edible if we tried to ripen them.

Our ever-curious gardeners decided they weren’t going to abide by that assumption, and several of them took bananas home on January 10 to ripen in different situations to see what the results would be.

Cathy ripened hers inside hanging on a coat rack.  It took less than two weeks.   About a dozen ripened and Cathy reported they were firm and sweet.  They were small as they did not develop further after cutting from the plant. The very small bananas turned black as they yellowed, but the larger ones did a bit better (photo). 

Cathy’s ripe bananas

Rebecca ripened hers in a paper bag inside and it took about the same amount of time.  

Peggy hung hers in her unheated garage and they also ripened nicely, but took about six weeks.  She had about a dozen finger-size bananas ripen.  

Peggy’s ripe bananas 

The bottom line—don’t give up on your bananas even if they are not fully developed.  This is the usual result as weather turns cold.  Occasionally bananas will have time to fully develop in our area giving us more bananas than we can use.  It doesn’t happen very often, but we’ve learned we can still enjoy home grown bananas most years.  

Friday, February 23, 2024

Time to Prune Grapes


The VegHeadz are learning about caring for grapes now that we have a grape arbor, and February is the ideal time to prune grapes. Grapes bear fruit on new growth on one year old vines, so it’s important to trim back last year’s growth in early spring to make way for new shoots.  Training vines also keeps the arbor from becoming an unmanageable tangle, with the resulting shade causing grape production to decline.

Peter Goren, the master gardener who is heading up the grape project, has decided to use the Munson Method of pruning. T.V. Munson, who lived in Texas, spent many years studying grapes and developing varieties.  He is considered to be the savior of the French wine industry through his research.  Read this interesting story here:  

There are many options for training grapes, depending on your situation and the variety of grape.  Muscadines are the species that grows best in our area. For everything you need to know about growing muscadines see:

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Wednesday in the Garden

The easiest and best way to tackle small weeds is with a stirrup hoe.  Raised beds seem to be easier to maintain, but weeds still grow in pathways and vacant beds.  

The first line of defense is to keep the soil covered with closely spaced vegetable crops or with a cover crop.  The shade and competition discourage weeds and furnish resources to essential soil microbes.  The soil is continually improved by crops chopped and dropped in place to return nutrients for the next season. 

The next best thing is to make a quick weed touch up with your stirrup hoe each week to nip small weeds in the bud and to keep them from setting seeds.  This is the real secret to discouraging annual weeds.  Perennial weeds and persistent pests like nut sedge can only be contained by consistent chopping.  It only takes a few minutes if done each week.  

The VegHeadz have formed a Hoe Brigade, and we plan to spend the first 15 minutes of each work day touching up pathways and attacking any areas where weeds are proliferating.  We’ll see how it works.  

Many VegHeadz are growing seedlings at home and propagating plants for the annual Master Gardener plant sale scheduled for May 11, 2024.  Save the date. 

The VegHeadz Hoe Brigade—Woe to Weeds!


Sunday, February 4, 2024

Wednesday in the Garden

Baby Beets

We’re all anticipating spring.  The Japanese Magnolias at the top of the hill are budding out and we can just feel the roots of perennials stretching as they awaken from their winter sleep.  But there are plenty of hardy plants in our garden that have thrived through the winter.  They are lovely to look at on a sunny Wednesday morning.  

Secondary sprout on a broccoli plant.

Tuscan Kale

Cilantro and Cabbage

Many types of interesting greens

Multiplying onions

Carrots in a 4-H bed

Sage in Louie’s herb bed.  It 
Loves cool weather.

Artichoke with grain cover crop

Glenn’s Heirloom bed. All
varieties were grown before 1850. 


Winter cover crop mix.  Almost no weeds
in this area.  Includes Austrian winter 
peas, cereal rye, hairy vetch, crimson
clover.   It will soon be chopped and 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Seed Library Kickoff 2024

The Seed Library Kickoff for 2024 is scheduled for Saturday, February 9 from 10 a.m. to 12 at the Main Library   See these links for more information.    It’s a great event for adults and children

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Dooryard Fruit Care

A new resource is available on the VegHeadz blog—a North Florida Dooryard Fruit Care Calendar.  For those who have fruit trees or who aspire to grow some, this is a helpful aid to prompt you when to plant, fertilize and prune.  

The reference links included provide additional important information.  

Dooryard fruit doesn’t need a lot of fertilization if they are planted in loose, fertile soil and consistently mulched.  The fertilization schedules recommended in the references have been adjusted on the calendar to allow you to fertilize almost all of your fruit at the same time.  However, you should be aware of the fertilizer needs for each variety as some, like blueberries and citrus, need an acidic fertilizer and others a more neutral type.  

This calendar is under development and we welcome comments, suggestions and questions in the comment section below.  The calendar is available in the left sidebar and at this link:

Thursday, January 25, 2024


This week, Leon County leaders voted to make permanent a test program under contract with the engineering company ReCap to turn yard waste into a carbon-negative material called biochar. Carbon negative means the product or process offsets more carbon, through carbon capture, sequestration, or avoidance, than it contributes to the environment. 

Biochar is essentially charcoal, or wood which has been partially burned at very high temperatures in anaerobic conditions to create a stable product which will sequester carbon for many years while rendering benefits to soil and plants.

Extension agents have been able to secure a large bag of the biochar which will be tested in the VegHeadz garden. We will add prescribed amounts to our mix of topsoil and compost. Biochar is said to benefit the soil in many ways including better water retention, balancing pH, immobilization of heavy metals, and providing a medium for increasing microorganism populations.

Additional information and resources are available in the left sidebar under Gardening Resources. These should be studied carefully as there are also some drawbacks. Biochar tends to increase soil alkalinity and can deplete nitrogen when applied. It should be used in small amounts and plants should be monitored to assess results. Once added to the soil, it cannot be removed.

The county resource management department intends to make biochar available to the public along with the currently available mulches and compost. Availability can be determined by calling the solid waste department.

Below are links to additional interesting reading reflecting the many ways in which waste is being recycled, repurposed, and managed by our county government:

Solid Waste Managment website:

Leon County Resource Stewardship website (includes oversight of Sustainability, Solid Waste, Parks and Recreation, and UF/IFAS Leon County Extension):

2023 report of Leon County Office of Resource Stewardship:

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Permaculture Principles

Many permaculture elements were included in the design of the VegHeadz Demonstration Garden and continue to be used in growing and maintaining it.   To name a few:  

  • The berms and swales we created to capture and control the flow of water on our sloped site and the recently constructed rain garden for further water control.  
  • Utilization of crop rotation,  cover crops and no-till methods to minimize pests and diseases and build the soil.  
  • Minimal use of chemicals, pesticides, and commercial fertilizers. 
  • Production of compost and extensive use of sustainable and recycled mulches.
  • Use of the garden to teach others and contribution of our excess to those who have less.
  • Utilization of Hugelkultur and food forest growing techniques.
  • Planting many different species and varieties throughout the garden to provide biodiversity and mutual benefits.     
There are more.  If you’re not familiar with permaculture, read the article under Permaculture Resources in the right sidebar— Permaculture—What Is It?

A new addition to our permaculture resources is a concise statement by permaculture designer Brett Prichard of Mollison’s fundamentals in permaculture ethics and design which are definitely worth a read.  In particular, permaculture ethics set out a map we should all follow in living our lives in a way to preserve the earth for future generations.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Seed Saving and Companion Plants

Two excellent articles by Master Gardener and VegHead Mary Janik have recently been published in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, and are available on the community blogs.  Thank you Mary for shedding light on these two important gardening subjects.

Decoding the Science of Companion Planting:

Seed Saving 101:

Thursday, January 11, 2024

A Cautionary Tale

Photo by Peggy McDonald

A soil test last fall revealed that some of the VegHead Garden’s beds are quite high in copper, particularly those where we have added a lot of commercial garden mix created from animal manure.

While composting has been shown to reduce the bioavailability of copper and other heavy metals, they can still accumulate in the soil.   This can affect germination rates and plant growth.  Copper also has antimicrobial qualities which can reduce the activity of essential microorganisms in the soil. 

It has long been known that composted animal manure tends to be high in copper because of copper that is added to animal feed for domestic animals to help furnish minerals for animal nutritional needs and because of its antimicrobial characteristics.  This includes mushroom compost, which is usually created from animal manure, blood meal and grain straw.

We had been using bulk garden mix from local suppliers, and following the soil test, we were looking for alternative products to top up our garden beds and provide nutrients to our crops.  When extension agent Mark Tancig contacted Black Kow to see what the copper content was in their commercial product, they confirmed that it was also high in copper. They graciously donated many bags of their 100% cow manure compost to us, which we will use with the addition of an equal amount of garden soil, potting mix, or our own compost, which is free of manure.  This will dilute the copper concentration to which the plants are exposed as well as any other heavy metal residue   

Soil tests are recommended to not only test for copper, but  potassium and phosphorus as well as soil pH   Proper levels of all these elements are essential for your garden to thrive, Soil test kits can be obtained from the Leon County Extension office on Paul Russell Road.   



UF/IFAS photo: C. Hutchinson

Starting now and up through the end of February is a good time to plant potatoes.  This recent article in Gardening in the Panhandle tells you what you need to know.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Preparing Your Garden for Spring Planting

We enjoyed the previous post by Master Gardener Brenda Buchan so much we thought this would be a good time to mention the article she wrote about preparing our gardens for spring planting.  This is something we should all be thinking about now.  

Spring Veggie Garden Prep:

This and many other gardening articles written for publication in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper and posted on the community blog can be accessed here:

Also see our previous post highlighting information from Nathan Ballentine, “The Man in Overalls” about preparing your garden beds for the next planting season:

Glenn Mayne, Brenda Buchan, and David Marshall working in the
Tallahassee Museum 1880s Garden. Photo by Mary Jackson.

Tallahassee Museum 1880s Garden

The herb garden adjacent to the farm house and
vegetable garden in the Tallahassee Museum 1880s farmyard.  

The VegHeadz Demonstration Vegetable Garden is not the only vegetable garden in Tallahassee tended by Master Gardeners.  

Master Gardener Brenda Buchan has volunteered at the 1880s Garden at The Tallahassee Museum for a number of years. Brenda is our guest host today as she shares information about that garden.  Photos by Brenda Buchan.

“For vegetable gardeners, the Leon County Extension Office houses the Master Gardener’s VegHeads Garden behind Demonstration Bed 5. If you are a home gardener and have small plots or raised beds to plant in this is the perfect place to learn. 

“The Leon County Master Gardeners also host a vegetable garden inside the Tallahassee Museum at the farm house location. It is called the 1880s Garden because the homesites there were built in the 1880s and the herb and vegetable garden reflects what would have been growing at that time. This garden, usually less than an acre, would be considered the kitchen garden that the lady of the household would tend in order to feed her family. It involves planting row crops that could be eaten when ripe, as well as dried or canned, and stored for the winter. During the 1880s, the farm site would also have had a large crop garden, where the crops are sold for income such as peanuts and cotton. That crop would be worked by the men of the household.

“The Leon County Master Gardeners have been working the Tallahassee Museum’s 1880s garden for over two decades now. Twice a year, in the Spring and in the Fall we put in new crops. We use the same methods used during the 1880s including pushing a hand plow and cultivator. The garden is all organic, as it would have been in the 1880s, and any insect problems we have are hand removed or sprayed with soapy water. The crops we plant are also ones that would have been planted at that time and eaten by residents of north Florida. We use composted animal manure to fertilize the crops. I share an anecdotal story at the end of the article about this.

“This garden was started by Glenn Mayne, a long time Leon County Master Gardener, and the methods we use are the same ones his grandfather taught him as a boy while tending his farm in Escambia County, Florida in the 1950s. 

Master Gardeners Mary Jackson and Glenn Mayne
tending the grape arbor at the Tallahassee Museum 1880s farmyard.

“During Spring and Fall, Master Gardeners work the garden on Tuesday mornings. It is common for us to be approached by visitors to the museum asking about what we are planting or the methods we use to tend the garden. We use this opportunity to share our knowledge and to encourage them to try a vegetable garden at home. While we frequently are not there at the time, we know the Museum uses the vegetable garden to teach grade school students about farming when their class visits the museum. For some of the children, they have no idea that French Fries come from potatoes and that potatoes are vegetables and grow underground. We receive a lot of feedback from the Museum teaching staff on how much the children love the vegetable and adjacent herb garden.

“Besides being a community service for the county school children and Museum, the Master Gardeners who work the Garden learn a lot about what row crop farmers must deal with each year. That includes crop rotation, weather conditions, insect infestations, critter management (rabbits, squirrels, deer), and fertilization. 

“The story I wanted to share is yet another lesson we learned this past year. Normally, we do not apply fertilizer to our plants until they have grown approximately eight inches tall and then we only apply it to one side of the crop, the north side. This is called ‘side dressing’ and is done to allow the plant to choose whether it wants to grow towards the fertilizer or not. This past fall, when we went out to plow our small field and prepare it to plant seeds, the Museum had left for us a small pile of composted manure next to the field. Leaving manure out is not a good idea when dealing with children as those ‘Road Apples’ can look too much like a dirt clod that needs to be thrown. So instead of waiting we decided to spread the manure thinly over the entire field and cultivate into the soil before we plowed the rows and planted the seeds. That turned out to be a really bad idea. The seeds did eventually sprout but never thrived. Three months after planting, the crops were still only six to seven inches tall. Lesson learned, we will never spread manure again before planting and we will keep side dressing the rows instead.

“We welcome interested gardeners that want to work with us and learn.”

Master Gardeners David Marshall pushing the cultivator beside the field peas, and 
Marcie Pretorius tying up tomato plants at the Tallahassee Museum 1880s Garden.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Winter Solstice

We have reached the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In our north Florida region we are moving into what are really our only two months of winter—January and February—so this wouldn’t seem like a time for rejoicing. But during these coldest months, we can look forward to spring because from this day forward, each morning comes earlier and each day is longer .

The winter solstice is important to gardeners because many plants respond to day length by shutting down most of their processes when days are short and temperatures cool (dormancy). Growth begins again for perennials when days lengthen. The response to changes in day length is called photoperiodism and helps plants adapt to changes in season.  Dormancy is ended by either longer day length, rise in temperature, or a combination of the two.  Some examples of elements which may be controlled by day length are flowering, leaf bud dormancy, and the activation of bulbs or tubers.

So welcome the winter solstice and begin looking forward to spring by poring over your seed catalogs, starting seeds indoors in January in preparation for planting in March, and in general, enjoying this downtime, when many weeds and insect pests are also dormant. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

VegHeadz at the Annual MG Year End and Awards Gathering


 Produce fresh from the VegHeadz garden

This week many of the VegHeadz attended the annual year-end and award meeting at the Leon County Extension.  On hand were volunteers and presentations for most of the projects that the master gardeners undertake throughout the year. As usual the VegHeadz had an attention-grabbing display and lots of information and giveaways.  

One of the main attractions for the annual meeting is the award of certificates to individuals who have just completed the recent master gardening class. Over the course of the next year, they will provide volunteer hours to complete their training and become full fledged Master Gardeners at the next year end  meeting. We hope that many of them will join us in the VegHeadz garden.

Peggy is manning the sampling area with cookies 
and jellies which include ingredients grown 
in our garden.  

Emma provided information and bags to 
gather seeds and produce for those in 
attendance to take home.  

Nancy and Cathy are admiring the 
Many types of greens we grow and 
a less familiar vegetable, Yacon tubers, 
for folks to try.  

Corsican gourds for use in crafts 

More veggies

Loofah sponges from our gourds.  
They reseed and reappear every year.  

Seeds saved from the garden 
were a popular stop.  Peggy
Is our seed saving champion.  

Cathy showing off 
her pepper jelly.  

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Wednesday in the Garden

Some of our intrepid gardeners—
Mike, Louie, Cathi and Cathy
It was a cool day at the VegHeadz garden, but a number of the VegHeadz turned out to weed, and plant, and collaborate, and plan for the VegHeadz table at next week’s annual MG meeting.   No matter the weather, it’s never a good day to miss being in the garden.  

Seen in the garden this week:

Some variety of Pak Choy

Fennel, ready for butterfly larvae
to munch

Beautiful lettuce

Winter vegetables are fun—
many shapes and shades of green

Broccoli almost ready for harvest.  Each 
little bump is a flower bud.  

Peppers—maybe Aji Dulce

Echinacea—Purple Coneflower
Undaunted by recent cold snaps

Looks like Carrots, but it’s
really Dill

The persistent tomato in the Hugelkultur
bed is still producing.  These tomatoes are
down in the center of the plant which 
gives them some frost and cold protection.  

Jalapeno peppers.  In warmer weather 
they would ripen to red if 
left on the plant

Several of our banana trees have produced bananas. Unfortunately they. will not have
time to develop and ripen in winter’s cool weather and short days. Last winter we had a
hard freeze and all the banana trees died back. It takes a banana plant up to 18 months to
bear fruit in our climate.  These “trees” had to first regrow and then produce fruit,
which didn’t give them time to develop completely.  Bunches which are
mostly developed with plump bananas can be cut and ripened inside.  
These undeveloped bunches will be removed and composted along with the plants on which
they grew (will not bear fruit again) and any other surplus banana plants developing within the mat.
For more information, enter “bananas“ in the search box in the right sidebar.