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March 25th, 2011

New Approaches to Community Gardening

don_tnIt seems to me that these days, as often as not, “community garden” can mean “urban farm,” where groups of volunteers coordinated by a visionary soul or committed non-profit organization plant and tend a large garden/truck farm. (Frequently, in these parts, it can be a church, mosque, temple or other religious group with land. A vegetable garden is a good replacement for a ginormous lawn, in my opinion.) Often, but not always, the food is distributed to people who can’t afford or obtain fresh vegetables. Sometimes it’s like a “grow your own” CSA farm (some are set up by farmers themselves), sometimes it is a money-making project for youth (SEEDS/DUG in Durham, NC, is a good one).

I find this approach has a very different “feel” than an allotment-style community garden with individual plots, which is more like a quilt of backyard kitchen gardens than a farm. There are hybrid versions, too. But both approaches can build a sense of community.  —Don Boekelheide, Charlotte, North Carolina

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March 18th, 2011

Beautiful Broccoli

These ‘Pink Charm’ daffodils in my Las Vegas garden remind me of the garden club ladies: I am in the middle of my talk and they are all watching me. That is broccoli in the background. I have filled the freezer with broccoli—I am up to my ears in broccoli and letting the rest go to flower. I am not going to eat another broccoli until next fall. I am turning green; my house smells like broccoli; I smell like broccoli; Bill smells like broccoli; the chickens are turning green and they smell like broccoli.

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Broccoli is very pretty when it flowers. I bring some of the brocolli flowers into the house to mix with cut daffodils—they bloom at the same time in my garden. The “fancy” varieties of daffodils in this bouquet fool people—they can’t guess that they are daffodils. And they never guess that the sprays of tiny yellow flowers next to them are broccoli! Fun.  —Leslie Doyle, Las Vegas, Nevada

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March 14th, 2011

Close Encounters of the Wild Kind

nanstermanThe dog was very agitated one afternoon last week, so I went outside to throw a ball for him. Instead, he lead me to this poor hawk, sitting on the rocks in my fountain.

A woman from the local wildlife rescue came to get him—or her.

The bird wasn’t the least bit upset by the woman but every time my 90-pound hound came near, it spread its wings to ward off the dog. Sure worked! The wing looks broken but when the rescue woman picked up the bird, the wing seemed perfectly fine.
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I got some wonderful photos too…the closest I’ve ever been to this kind of bird.  —Nan Sterman, Encinitas, California

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March 9th, 2011

Snakes and Lizards: Harbingers of Spring

I planted two legumes for our 2011 trials on Friday—the cowpea ‘Fagiolino Dolico di Veneto’ and the ‘Chinese Red Noodle’ bean. Today, four days later, 100 percent germination on the cowpea. When you plant them, stand back! (Red Noodle about 70 percent germination so far.)

Came into office to turn on computer, then went back out to the house to get my notes and almost stepped on a 2-foot coral snake. Beautiful male. We each went our own way. Also, the agamas are back out, so it’s definately spring! An agama is a lizard, originally from Africa and kept as pets. A bunch were released accidently during Hurricane Andrew (1992) about 10 miles from here. They have been spreading ever since. Arrived here in Homestead about three years ago. They are about 1.5′ long. Males are beautiful—bright orange heads, streaked with electric blue. They like to hang out on the lip of two of my big beds (15 feet by 100 feet). They eat snails, slugs, mice, and small rats! Usually active through winter, they knew better this year.

The best thing about the cold winter we just came through, it killed off a lot of the Bahamian anoles (another lizard) and that allowed a population explosion of our native Carolina anole. (Those are the ones that were sold in comic books as “chameleons” years ago! Found one in the bathroom yesterday!) Another good thing, it brought down the iguana population. Imagine what a 6-foot iguana could do to 12 shadehouses of organic microgreens!  —Andres Mejides, Homestead, Florida

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March 3rd, 2011

Winter Losses

Homestead, Florida, may show on the map as Zone 10, but we had a Zone 9 winter this year. Seriously, our farm met the chilling requirement for ‘Granny Smith’ apples! And the peaches, mulberries, and raspberries all loved it.

Well, we lost some of the things that are more cold sensitive, in spite of me being up all night on about 12 different occasions. Lost all the peppers, of course. We also lost our cashew tree. The mangosteen did a partial leaf drop, but it’s leafed out again. The fennel ‘Finale’, a test variety for 2010, shrugged off the cold and is starting to bulb now. (Some of the fennel at our farm is going on 10 years old now. The black swallowtails love fennel foliage but do not decimate their food source. Humans could learn a lot from them.)

The two tomatoes that I trialed, ‘Bitonto’ and ‘Blush’, both came back. They got some frost burn, some continued growing from the tips, some sent out new growth from the roots. We should be able to get a month or two of production from them. Days are in the 80’s, but nights here in farm country are still going down to 60’s and 70’s, so we should get a bit more flower set. ‘Bitonto’, in fact, is already being eaten with great relish, or even by itself.  ‘Blush’ has set fruit but is not quite ripe yet.

When it was obvious that our winter was going to be colder than usual, I went ahead and planted ‘Magnolia Blossom’ snap pea. These guys performed reasonably well, considering the Florida climate, but now with days too hot, they’re starting to give it up. Never got enough production to cook, but they are great to eat raw in the garden.  —Andres Mejides, Homestead, Florida

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