Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Path Less Traveled

I explored a trail today through the Prosperity Oaks Natural Area. This small protected area is covered with Muscadine grape vines! I couldn't help myself. I took a small cutting to see if I could get it to root.  I did a Google search to find out how to make cuttings from Muscadine vines, and attempted to prepare the green-cutting for rooting.  I understand that if it roots it would take a year to grow large enough to bear the weight of fruit, so the best case scenario is that I could have grapes as early as fall 2012. Seems like a long time to wait for grapes, but I will feel very accomplished if I get the cutting to root. It is currently in my seed-starter greenhouse attempting to sit in some humidity.

I'll post as soon as I know if the rooting is happening or not.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Lot Has Happened In a Month!

I can't believe that it has been a month since my last post. I intended to post several times over the lat 30 days, but I kept getting distracted. I was not distracted from the actual act of gardening, however. Everything has grown like weeds!

The only plants that have not sprouted are the pink bananas and the Thai red papayas. I still have hope for them though. The weather is getting much warmer (it's been highs of 80 degrees all weekend here in South Florida), and I hope that the balmy temps will trigger sprouting in my bashful seeds.

Marcus Aurelius (my polydamus butterfly) finally emerged from his chrysalis on Valentines day. I missed it because I was at work, but my roommate called me to give me the good news. He looked spectacular, and had an affinity for my mint plant.


I released him as soon as the wind died down so that he could go find better eats than my flowering eggplant and roses.

On one of my many trips to Lowes, I discovered Georgia Sweet onion seedlings and some Heirloom Beefsteak tomato plants that I could not pass up. (Yes, I do realize I need better impulse control.) I planted the onions and tomatoes in one of my recycled cat litter container earth buckets.

A NOTE ON EARTH BUCKETS: Earth buckets (aka global buckets) are a great way to reuse containers by creating a self-watering plant container. I am collecting my cat litter containers to use as earth buckets, but 5 gallon buckets are the more common option. I cover the tops of my earth buckets with plastic shopping bags that have holes cut in them for the plants to grow out of. The plastic cover helps to keep the soil from losing moisture. I won't go into how to make one here because there are many fantastic how-to videos on Youtube. 

Last weekend I got the new beefsteak tomatoes, onions, Swiss chard, mustard, cucumbers, melons, beans, and some of the peppers planted in their respective containers.  At this point, I began to worry about floor space on my balcony.

Beefsteak Tomatoes

 Swiss Chard

Mustard Greens

Cucumbers & Onions

Sleeping Beauty & Banana Melon Sprouts

Beans & Assorted Peppers
But I still had tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant seedlings to transplant into pots from the seed starter trays.

This weekend I returned to Lowes and purchased two 64 quart bags of MiracleGro Moisture Control potting soil, some peat pots, and some regular 8-12 inch clay pots. My seedlings were getting too big and too crowded in their starter tray, and I needed to get them planted quickly. However, I was shocked to see how many individual plants I actually had! Apparently, I accidentally planted more seeds than I realized, because I had a TON of tomato and pepper plants that I have absolutely no room for. Now, this is an astounding number, and I do realize how crazy it is, and no, I don't know how it happened, but after 6 hours of transplanting the seedlings to peat pots, I had 47 pots of EXTRA plants! 47 EXTRA!

One tray of my extra plants -- mostly tomato and pepper plants

Tray of extra tomato plants

Overwhelmed by the crazy amount of plants I had,  I immediately started making calls to give away mass quantities of tomato and pepper plants. I am becoming the Johnny Appleseed of tomato plants.

So, now my garden is all planted and pretty much all that is left is the growing. One of my favorite things to do after work is to go out on my balcony to see what has grown in the 24 hrs since the last time I have looked. There is always some minute but inspiring growth.

Beans and Peppers Growing
Black Cherry & Carbon Tomato Plants in an Earth Bucket

Wonderberry Plants

 Pots of  Black Cherry & Carbon Tomatoes

Tiny Ground Cherry Plants

Eggplant is Fruiting

Mint and Catnip is Overtaking the Shelves
So, that is the latest on my garden's progress. My next posts will be about a resource I've recently discovered on wild Florida plants, and some reviews on the canning and preserving books I've books I've reading.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Still Growing . . .

The hardest part is the waiting.

Everything is growing and doing splendidly. Nearly all of my seeds have sprouted. I am still waiting to see signs of life from the Wonderberries, the Ground Cherry, the Pink Banana, and Thai Red Papaya. One of the surprising growers of the last couple of days was the cucumbers. I decided to plant a couple of the cucumbers in the seed trays (though they are supposed to be planted directly) just to get them started at the same time as the rest of the veggies. They sprouted almost immediately and are already one of the biggest sprouts.

This one is the Horace Boyette Burpless Cucumber:

And this is the Parisian Cucumber sprouting:

The tomatoes are also doing really well. Both the Carbon and Black Cherry varieties are starting to show progress.

One of the best growers from the first greenhouse tray that I seeded were the flowers. The Jewel Peach Melba Nasturtiums have become downright gangly, and the Camellias are also beginning to get so long that I think I will soon be transplanting them to pots.

The seed trays are beginning to look full of vegetation, so I decided to start working on getting my balcony organized so that it will be ready for when I begin transplanting. I cleaned up all the plant debris and detritus that was laying around, and I pruned the existing plants to get them ready for Spring.

My Ichiban Eggplant already thinks it is Spring. It began flowering like crazy a couple of weeks ago and now I have a plant that is covered with tiny purple eggplants. I finally got a trellis for it. Last year I just let it sprawl everywhere, but this year, as space will be at a premium, I decided it needed to start growing more vertically. Hopefully the upward mobility will help it produce more eggplants as well.

And Marcus Aurelius, my polydamus swallowtail caterpillar is still in his cocoon. I am amazed by how closely his chrysalis resembles a green leaf. I have no idea how long he will remain in the cocoon. That is something I should probably research. So far, he's been ensconced for a week.

Soon I will purchase large quantities of potting soil and begin transplanting the cucumbers, flowers, and herbs and direct plant the beans, onions, and radicchio.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sprouting Update

I have four fully sprouted containers of Carbon Tomatoes and three fully sprouted containers of Black Cherry Tomatoes.  My Balsam Camellias and Jewel Peach Melba Nasturtiums are going gangbusters. And the peppers are making a good show as well. The two varietals of cucumbers were just beginning to make movement in the earth last night, so I am hoping that tonight I will have bona fide sprouts from them.

So far, no signs of life from the Pink Bananas,  Thai Red Papaya, Swiss Chard, or the herbs, but it is still pretty early for them.

A pictorial update will be coming soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Transformations Are Beginning

Marcus Aurelius, my Polydamas Swallowtail caterpillar has been acting strangely. I thought he might be dying on me. When I purchased him, I was told that he likely wouldn't form his chrysalis for several weeks. The first two days I had him, he ate voraciously and defecated copiously. I was thrilled. I had a very active caterpillar.

But then, for two days he did hardly anything. He seemed to be moping around the top of his plexi glass cube. I put a new stick and some fresh leaves in with him and he ignored them. I wondered if the stress of several car rides had just been too much for him.

Yesterday he did nothing at all. I was convinced he was dead. He was just hanging from the top of the cube by a few webby threads. I checked on him again this morning before heading to work and he definitely appeared dead. I felt awful. Somehow, I had killed him.

I came home from work at lunch, however and discovered that over the course of the morning, Marcus Aurelius had transformed! He had entered his chrysalis phase. Currently, he is a beautiful Spring green chrysalis, and I am so happy that I have not yet killed him.

But the transformations did not stop at Marcus. My Carbon tomatoes have also just begun to sprout! So far I have sprouts emerging from three of the four soil pods I had sown. It is getting near freezing tonight and tomorrow night, so I moved the seed tray into the house for the nights. I am hoping that the Black Cherry tomatoes will soon be sprouting as well.

I had some herb seeds that do not transplant well, so I scrounged up some aged pots and used the last of my bag of potting soil to get them started. I now have Thyme, Dill, and Cilantro seeds sown in these pots. I also have small plants of Rosemary, Mint, and Catnip growing in pots as well.

This weekend I plan to clean up the balcony and get the layout set. I am not sure it will be a good time to plant the zucchini, melons, beans, or onions yet. It's still pretty early in the year, and I don't want a surprise freeze to destroy the growing plants.  But I will at least purchase the window boxes, tomato cages, and soil that I am going to need. And of course I will post pictures of my progress.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Best Wishes for Pink Bananas

Last night I soaked four Pink Banana seeds in hot water for 24hrs. (I started out with hot water anyway; it grew colder with the passage of time.)

When I got home from work today I re-hydrated four soil pods for my Jiffy seed starter tray and sowed the banana seeds the prescribed 1/2 inch deep into the soil.

The package says to keep the sown seeds at a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so I place the second seed tray in front of a window in the condo to try to keep the temp regular. The packaging says that germination can occur in as quickly as one week or as long as six months! I will be so disappointed if it takes months to germinate the seeds. I am hoping that the long soak I gave the seeds will help speed up the germination process at bit.

The first tray I seeded is sprouting very well. I have sprouts coming up of almost everything now except the tomatoes. As everything else is sprouting so well, I have faith that the tomatoes will get with the program soon.

Last year I bought a seedling Ichiban Eggplant from Lowe's. It grew some lovely leaves and spread out all over the place and produced exactly two tiny eggplants. I thought it was going to die over this winter. It got pretty sickly looking, and I wrote it off as a learning experience. However, it almost seems like the cold snap we had here in South Florida spurred it back into action. Shortlay after the freezing temps lifted, it began blooming like crazy. I just harvested two sizeable eggplants from it, and I have about five more that are growing on the plant, and there are still more blossoms! So it looks as if the eggplant will be a part of my balcony garden after all!

I have been carrying a canning and preserving book around with me nearly everywhere. I've found a great little recipe for papaya preserves and I am hoping that I will get the opportunity to try it out. Baker Creek says that the Thai Red Papaya that I am attempting to grow is a heavy producer, so hopefully I have plenty of fruit in my future.

My next projects will be to continue to read up on canning and preserving, plant the rest of my herbs in pots, and clean up the balcony and prepare it for planting my trellising plants.  Updates will be forthcoming . . .

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seed Starting Round Two and a Homework Assignment

When I got home from work today a fat package from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds was waiting for me in my mailbox. I have been impatiently waiting for the three days it took for Baker Creek to send me the seeds. One of the packets I ordered was for Pink Bananas! I understand that they can be difficult to germinate, but the thought of having my own small pink banana tree is just too tempting.

I immediately divided the seeds into thirds so that I could send portions to my mom and to my best friend. This took some time as I had really ordered WAY too many seeds.

Then I got out my second 72 cup seed tray (I'm using Jiffy) and planted the few seeds that required seed starting.

My first tray of seeds is already doing me proud. I have fully sprouted mustard greens and mesclun, and I can see the very beginning of sprouts happening with my herbs and peppers. I'm still wait to see signs of life from the tomato plants though. Here's a photo of the progress only 4 days after sowing the seeds.

Most of what I purchased for this second round (beans, zucchini, melons, radicchio, herbs) did not require seed starting, so I put those seeds aside for when I am ready to sow them into pots. I need to make sure the worst of the cold weather is done and my balcony is transformed into a garden space before I plant them.

And speaking of transforming my balcony into a garden space, that needs to happen ASAP. Since the cold snap that killed half of my plants in December, my balcony has been a plant wasteland and garden prep station. It is thoroughly trashed, but I have a plan. As embarrassing as it is, I am posting the before pictures here, so that when it is cleaned up it will seem all the more of an accomplishment.

Another spur of the moment garden decision I made was to purchase a caterpillar. I was at the Winter Park Farmer's Market on Saturday and came across an entomologist who sold various kinds of caterpillars so that people could watch the transformation process from caterpillar to butterfly. My caterpillar (who I named Marcus Aurelius to both inspire him to greatness and annoy my mother) is a Polydamas Swallowtail and will eventually turn into a brilliant swallowtailed butterfly. I'll post some pictures of him along the way to document his process. Right now he is simply busy eating and pooping. I had no idea how much poop a caterpillar could make!

Lastly, I stopped by the library today and picked up a stack of books on canning and preserving. I know that I have months to go before I need to worry about saving some produce, but I want to have some knowledge under my belt well before that time. I also want to pick out some favorite recipes to keep me motivated.

Up next, seed sprouting updates, balcony transformation, and some book reviews. . .

In the Beginning There Were Seeds

So a couple of weeks ago I read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It completely inspired me. I have been disenchanted with life lately: I am living in a city I don't care for, doing a thankless job, living far from friends and family. I need something to look forward to in my days. This book gave me a direction to achieve that. I decided to try my hand at my own small-scale urban garden.

I live in a condo in the middle of a large South Florida city. I have no land whatsoever. But I do have a lovely little West-facing, screened in balcony. I have a couple of rose bushes and some mint growing out there now. But after reading Carpenter's book, I have visions of juicy tomatoes, crisp peppers, cucumbers, zucchinis, melons, beans, and anything else yummy I can cram out there. I have romantic notions of coming home from my artificially-lighted cubicle and spending my evenings re-potting, weeding, tending, and harvesting from my balcony garden. I even  hope to be able to harvest enough to try my hand at canning and preserving some of my bounty.

But first things first. I have been reading about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and though I think that they have a certain utility, I also think that the science and technology has been drastically over-used to increase profit and property rights of giant seed corporations (I'm looking at you Burpee, ConAgra, and Cargill) at the detriment of entire produce lines. Seeds have become the property of corporations, and these corporations don't want you to become self-sustainable, they want you to be dependent on them for your produce/seeds.

I want to take myself out of this industrial cycle, so I chose to buy heirloom seeds that are guaranteed to be GMO-free, natural (non-hybrid), and open-pollinated. These are seeds from hardy, old-world stock that have survived from times well-before chemical pesticides and herbicides were introduced. These heirloom varieties tend to be hardier and tastier than their industrial cousins, and their seeds can be replanted for generations to come.

I decided to jump into my heirloom seed purchase with both feet. I ordered 14 seed varieties from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds that I thought I would get the most use out of: Black Cherry Tomato, Carbon Tomato, Purple Beauty Pepper, Sweet Red Stuffing Pepper, Black Night Pepper, Tam Jalapeno Pepper, Southern Giant Curled Mustard Greens, European Mesclun Mix, Chinese Mixed Chives, Greek Dwarf Basil, Genovese Basil, Broad Leaf Sage, Jewel Peach Melba Nasturtium, and Balsam Camelia Flowers (just because I think they are beautiful). I knew I would have a ton more seeds than I could use, but I convinced friends and family to try this urban gardening experiment with me and planned to send my excess seeds all over the state of Florida.

The seeds arrived from Baker Creek in three days! I was so excited to get started. I immediately drove to Lowe's to pick up a couple of seed trays to start my plants. So on Thursday night I sowed my first seeds.

Then I waited.

I sent the list of seeds that I had purchased to my mother to let her know what seeds she would be receiving from me. She was looking forward to starting her own garden, which would be much larger than mine because she actually has a yard she can utilize. She wanted to get some more seeds though. Things like onions and beans. She asked me if I'd make another order.

So I've made a second order of seeds. Together we will be receiving: Pink Bananas, Banana Melon, Wonderberry, Ground Cherry, Dill, Horace Boyette Burpless Cucumber, Parisian Pickling Cucumber, Chinese Red Noodle Bean, Thai White Seeded Long Bean, Malaysian Dark Red Eggplant, Sleeping Beauty Melon, Violet de Galmi Onion, Variegata di Chioggia Radicchio, Wando Garden Pea, Costata Romanesco Zucchini, Thyme, Cilantro, and Thai Red Papaya.

I think I am going to have too many plants.

So today is Monday, and I haven't received the second package of seeds yet, but the first plantings are already starting to sprout! I have salad and peppers already coming up. I am already feeling a little accomplished.

I want to grow the plants in recycled materials as much as possible. My father made me some earth buckets (aka global buckets), and I plan to re-use some containers that I have around the house (unused cat litter pans, litter buckets, plastic containers, etc.) to cut down on the amount of pots that I will need to purchase. I have some clay pots that I will be able to use as well, and I am hoping that I will not have to buy very many new ones. I hope to be able to fit a lot of plants on the balcony by using some shelving to keep smaller plants up off the floor, trellising, and some of the larger plants, like the banana and papaya trees and the mustard greens in large movable pots in my condo's entryway. I need to make the most of the outside space that I have.

The next step will be to start the second package of seeds when they arrive and begin to build the shelving structures and trellises on the balcony so that they are ready to house the plants when I pot them. Pictures will also be forthcoming.