Category Archives: Homesteading

Florida Gardening :: Fall Planting

I know that it’s Friday and this should be a book post, but the weather has been so nice that we have been outside. Finally!

I always get a little jealous when the northerners start talking about tending to their gardens. Usually that’s sometime In June, and in Florida, the temperature is well into the 90s and it is just. too. hot. Our Spring garden is wrapping up, the bugs have practically taken over and I am sweating by nine o’clock. I don’t want to go outside unless we are jumping into a pool or playing in the ocean. Unfortunately, my kids reflect my bad attitude toward the heat.

Thankfully, we eventually get a break and it begins to dip into the low 70s (at night, mind you) in mid-September. Then, I am excited to go out and work in the garden again.

A few weeks in and my Daikon Radishes are looking good. We saute the greens.

A month into Fall gardening and my Daikon Radishes are looking good. We eat the greens and the ferment the radish.

I prepped my Fall garden last month and managed to plant some Daikon Radish seeds and laid down some brown paper in between the rows. A lot of the radish seeds sprouted and survived the heat blast from last week, but the weeds in the remaining rows were starting to reclaim the space.  This past weekend, with temperatures in the upper 70s (as a high), I managed to finish up the garden prep.

Inspired by this post, I went with pine straw as a mulch since it’s really tough to find organic hay around here. I did get a bit lazy and am using seeds from the big box store down the road. We’ll see how those actually turn out for our Florida weather and soil.

My tiny gardening plot, hidden among the Liriope grasses in the front yard.

My tiny gardening plot, hidden among the Liriope grasses in the front yard.

On the far left: Organic Bibb (Limestone) Lettuce from Ferry Morris. Second from left: Organic Miyashige White Daikon Radish seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Third from left: Organic Spinach (Bloomsdale Long Standing) from Ferry Morris. Fourth row from left: same Daikons as above. Last row on the right: Red Leaf Kale (purchased as starts from the local feed and seed store).

 

Learning on the road

In addition to working with the movable alphabet and those blends (we're up to -ill, -ing, -ack), we were fortunate enough to take a trip to Pennsylvania to see some extended family. Some of our pre-trip planning included some writing (less we forget how-to on a week and half-long trip).

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But, really, the whole trip was one big homeschooling adventure. We saw the leaves change (a little), we visited two cousins' working dairy farms, the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC and Mount Vernon. And, they watched a little bit of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood when the driving got too rough for the little one.

We got to go apple picking at a local orchard. We also learned that we would like to visit PA a few weeks later next time since the only apples available were red and golden delicious. Although, I must admit that they were much better right off the tree than trucked 1,000 miles to Florida.

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We also visited the cows. Sweet creatures…and LOTS of calves. (The farm is a few hours west of the apple orchard). Adorable calves, really. And, no, they don't feed them by baby bottle…this was only for our benefit. They were hardy little creatures and the boys (and I) really have a whole new perspective on a dairy farm. The calves were super sweet and enjoyed being petted and liked to gnaw on your hand.

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But, of course, for my tractor-loving boys…this was the best part of these two farms. Tractor rides! Seriously, Joe's relatives were so generous with their limited time and were so very wonderful with my kids. We also got a nice visit in with Great-Grandma — and we all enjoyed that.

 

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As if that wasn't full of learning – we headed down to Washington, DC with many grand plans (a number of museums, ride around the city). As this was at the tail end of our trip, we realized that, after wrangling a 2-year-old around the Air and Space Museum for 3 hours, perhaps, we might cut out some of those proposed museums. And, so we did. Ronan was most excited about the Air and Space Museum because of his keen interest in all things space-related. We saw the recreation of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's walk on the moon, the Spirit of St. Louis (Lindbergh's plane) and we saw the original 1903 Wright Flyer. The Wright Brothers are quite popular with my eldest son at the moment. We have been reading and re-reading the book, First to Fly, a pretty complicated book for an almost-six-year-old. But, he loves it. And, probably understands it better than I do.

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We made that our only museum destination and got a much-needed rest that evening. Visiting with all of those relatives can really take it out of you. We finished up our journey with a visit to Mount Vernon. This year, Ronan had been very interested in George Washington and so we had read some books on him and they mentioned Mount Vernon. (His favorite was A Picture Book of George Washington). We also have the book, George Washington's Cows, which takes place there. He was very excited about seeing the house because he had read so much about it. We enjoyed seeing it through his eyes. And, it took us a bit by surprise, but we found that we got a lot out of our visit as well. Gardens. I'm not quite sure if the garden looked this way during his tenure (the location was the same), but as suburban gardeners, we were impressed with the integration of fruit trees, veggie beds and herbs in such a small space.

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We did little "formal" schooling, but we did look for letters and recognizable words while driving. However, I think the personal lessons on George Washington, the Wright brothers and a working dairy farm were far more valuable to my young kindergartner. I know I learned a lot.

the garden post

While I do not consider us prolific gardeners (yet), I would say that this year we have proven that we are getting a little bit better at growing our own food. It could be the change of climate. Since we are in north Florida now, we have a little bit more wiggle room with regards to plants. We are no longer limited to those plants that thrive in the tropics. Now, we have tomatoes and squash and cucumbers. Then, there's the beans and the okra and the calabaza pumpkins (a heat-loving variety that is ripening as we speak). We also bought most of our starter plants at the local farmer's market – a prefect place to know what is in season and what we should avoid in the Florida heat. Did I mention that we also have grown watermelons? Successfully? The kids couldn't have been more excited…and neither could we.

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And, just for record keeping for next year — the cherry tomatoes have done well, though they've stayed small. We've still harvested at least a pint between the two plants. The zuccinin did not like the 10 hours of direct sunlight in this Florida heat. They should be planted in partial shade. The yellow-orange lemon boys have produced at least 45 tomatoes, not to mention the six or seven that Calum has pulled off and were too little or green to ripen. And, there are still another 45 on the plants. (It's hard to squash that harvesting excitement, though, we are trying to redirect it just a bit).

Our two watermelon plants (one seedless, one seeded) have both actually grown to a the size of a small basketball. This is much more than we thought due to the fact that we had planted them in the space where we took down three of our trees (and we worried the soil was a bit lax, but a little fish emulsion seemed to help with that).

I realize that people have been growing their own food for thousands of years. I know this. But, man, it is really cool when we do it ourselves. We already have a plan to increase our food production space (thank you, Backyard Homestead). We will amend our soil with compost in the next few months and get ready to start again in October. We may even try our hand at growing some of our plants from seed. Who knows. Either way, we know we've been bitten by this bug. A self-sufficiency bug? A save-the-planet kind of bug? A clean-food bug? The nice thing is…we think our kids have been bitten too.

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Outdoor Transformations

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There's something about trying to be "green" that makes me cringe when I make this confession : we just had a large number of very, very tall trees cut down in our yard. In my defesnse, our yard is full of cherry laurels and water oaks, many of which are over 80 feet tall…and close to the house. These aren't the kind of trees to you want lingering in your yard. Perhaps, a live oak or two…

And, so we have begun the long process of eventually removing many of these trees (because we still have plenty left). But, we learned a lot about our space and we got some "free" mulch out of it, which has already been put to good use, of course. Plus, the boys had a blast and now, instead of a farmer or an astronaut, Ronan would like to be the owner of the tree cutting service. (Yes, he specified that he would like to be the guy who sometimes gets to be in the bucket truck, but not always…rather the guy who gets to give the orders). Observation is a powerful tool.

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a new appreciation for falling leaves

In our previous homes, we were surrounded by lots of trees…live oaks, mostly. The kind that shed their leaves in the Spring when the new growth shoots through and pushes them out. (We do things a bit backwards here in Florida). Our tiny patch of shared greenery has always been maintained by others, such is the life of a townhouse resident.

This year…we are once again surrounded by trees. But, these trees...these are our trees. We cannot claim to "own" them, but we are responsible for their care. They sit on our land, next to our house. They are numerous and we think they are mostly laurel oaks. They have (mostly) dropped their leaves and we are discovering the joys of being homeowners as we tend to these trees and our outdoor living space.

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As soon as Joey or I get a pile together, the kids come along and the pile is flattened. But, the joyful squeals we hear, and the time spent outdoors working together, reminds me of why we chose to make this place our home.