Chayote, Sechium edule

Chayote is also known as the Vegetable Pear and the Mirliton. This vegetable is a member of the cucurbit family, which means it is a type of squash. It is probably the strangest looking squash you will find in your grocery store. chayote

The fruit is light green in color and pear shaped. The fruit is produced on vigorous growing vines that are cold sensitive.

To grow your own chayote, Continue reading “Chayote”

All About Basil

Ocimum basilicum  includes

A few of the more common varieties are outlined here. We will get into more detail later.

Sweet basil basil_sweet-150x150
This is your basic basil, with large leaves and white flowers. The Genovese variety (names include ‘Sweet Genovese’ and ‘Genovese’ or ‘Genova Profumitissima’) is particularly nice, with a very pleasing flavor preferred for pestos. I’ve also found it a vigorous, luxuriant grower, slow to bolt. The leaves on those I’ve grown tend to be a bit larger than common sweet basil, which means you need fewer leaves for that batch of pesto!

Lettuce leaf, O. b. crispum
A short, wide plant with thick, very crinkled leaves; Continue reading “All About Basil”

Plumbago – Plumbago auriculata

Plumbago – Plumbago auriculata

Today was a busy day. We mulched the front yard and my dad trimmed this awesome looking, blue colored bush called Plumbago. I did some research and I found out this flower is native to Southern Africa and this surprised me, seeing that it came from that part of the world.

Plumbago is poisonous but that doesn’t matter unless you are awfully hungry and try to eat it. This plant looks so nice and beautiful that you can put it anywhere in the front yard and it will look beautiful. So my dad made cuttings of this plant. Trimming up this one plant made almost 140 cuttings because it was so bushy.

Plumbago’s brother is called Wild Leadwort.plumbago

This plant cost $110.00 at Classy Groundcovers but here at Brier Ridge Farm Fresh Herbs, we sell them in 1-gallon pots. It costs about $5 (gallon size) when we have our yard sales. So, which would you prefer,  a $110 plant from someone you don’t know or $5 for a gallon-size plant grown locally here in beautiful Punta Gorda, Southwest Florida.

Plumbago grows outdoors and blooms almost year round in Zones 8-11, although some protection may be necessary in Zone 8. If you live in a colder climate, Plumbago is happy to grow inside as a houseplant during the cold months. Just move it outside after danger of frost for lots of new growth and lovely blue flowers. Yes,  You CAN grow it!Plumbago, Imperial Blue

Epazote, Chenopodium ambrosioides

You know how sometimes, when you’re genuinely trying to find information on something via Google, you end up wandering off the trail and manage to find something unexpected? Well, that happened to me this morning.

Epazote, Chenapodium ambrosioides
Epazote, used to season some Mexican foods

I found epazote!

Okay, to explain:

Last summer, our Haitian friend Chewan visited and collected some moringa shoots and leaves. He’s always excited when he discovers something “from home” around here. Sometimes we have very different uses for the same plant and so it becomes a learning experience for both of us.

That particular day, he spied a bushy plant that I was planning to dig out Continue reading “Epazote, Chenopodium ambrosioides”

Moringa – as a Vegetable

We have a Haitian friend who comes by periodically to check up on the progress around our little farm. We first met him when he answered an ad we had placed in the paper to sell some of the gang of little male goats that had been born earlier in the year. He asked if he could walk around and look at everything. We obliged.

The Haitian gentleman was thrilled to see that we had chickens and immediately asked about eggs, old hens and roosters. He said he missed the flavor found in chickens that were allowed to roam freely. About that time, he turned and saw the moringa trees lining the fence. He ran over to them, shouting and laughing. I didn’t understand a word he was saying and I’m not sure if my sister understood him but he finally slowed down and reverted to speaking English. He was thrilled to see that we had moringa trees. He calls them something else, though, and I still can’t understand him when he talks about it. He asked if he could have some… and we said yes, in spite of the fact that we weren’t sure exactly what or how much he wanted.

He began snapping off the new growth at the tip of each branch,

Moringa Leaf Tips
Moringa Leaf Tips

about 10-12″ of it, stems and all. At this stage, the stems are soft and green. We asked him how he planned to use it. “Cook it, like spinach” was his immediate reply. “Cook it in soup with other vegetables” came next. He took a nice bag full of it and was just as thrilled with the moringa as he was with the goat he had purchased.

Chewan visits us regularly now, always asking about goats and “the trees”.

And so, although we had only seen the medicinal side of moringa ourselves, we learned that in many third world countries, moringa is also a basic vegetable, cooked and eaten as an everyday part of life.

Time to Get Growing

If you happen to be a transplant from the North, your mind probably isn’t turning to vegetable gardening at the moment. We lived most of our lives in an area where you carefully monitored the weather, longing for the frost-free date when you could safely plant your tomatoes. Then, in early September, you monitored the weather again, this time for the first killing frost that would officially finish the vegetable gardening season.

Well, that’s all different here in SW Florida!

I’m having a difficult time adjusting my head to this fact, in spite of living here for some 22 years or so. I did better this year and actually had the vegetable garden started in February. It was a huge success, for the most part. Then I did the unthinkable. I planted a second crop of my favorites. It was a total failure! The only plants that thrived were the weeds. I learned the hard way that our hot, humid, rainy summers are not what the vegetables want. If they sprout, they quickly succumb to mold, mildew and the wide variety of bugs that all adore the summers here. I even managed to screw up a crop of okra, which is supposed to do well in our summers!

And now it’s time to Get Growing again. Late August should have seen me planting tomato seeds, as well as most other plants we normally transplant into the garden. I should be starting to transplant them out NOW. Instead, my more or less Yankee brain is just now getting itself wrapped around the idea of planting the seeds.

Not to worry. It will take 4 to 6 weeks to get the seedlings big enough to transplant. Seeds germinate quickly in this weather, so I should be able to get caught up… unless we have more of the horrid freezing weather we had last year!

Today I will be planting two or three varieties of tomato seeds, peppers (both sweet and hot varieties), broccoli and other cole crops. If time and energy permits, I will be planting green beans, too.


GoGo Gardening

That’s not a misprint. I really mean GoGo instead of BoGo, which we all know means Buy One, Get One.

So what is GoGo and GoGo Gardening? It means Grow One, Get One. It’s not my original thought, though. I borrowed it from an article in the latest copy of “Florida Gardener”, my absolute favorite gardening magazine… next to new seed catalogs in January, of course. I just received the Oct/Nov issue in the mail yesterday.

The article is full of interesting little gardening gems, all of which give you at least two distinct “crops” from the same plant. Grow one plant and get the bonus crop, too. That’s GoGo Gardening.

Did you know that the pretty fern-like foliage that grows at the top of a carrot is edible? I sure didn’t. I’ve always cut it off with about an inch of good carrot attached. That makes a wonderful treat for the rabbits… or the goats. However, I think they’ve lost at least a part of their treats. I’m planning to use some myself.

Carrots are closely related to parsley… and that’s exactly what those leaves taste like! I’ve never had much luck growing parsley but carrots are another matter. The article didn’t say anything about drying and saving the carrot leaves as you would parsley so I guess I’ll try it when I have the next carrot crop.

Sweet potato leaves are also edible. Supposedly, they taste like a milder, more tender substitute for spinach. If you like home-grown spinach, you know it only grows during cool weather. That’s in extremely short supply in SW Florida… but sweet potatoes love our hot, humid summers. So… you plant sweet potatoes in the spring, munch on the leaves all summer, either raw in a salad or cooked as a green, and then dig up the sweet taters in the fall. That’s a lot of mileage out of a single crop!

Everyone knows by now that pumpkin seeds, when dried and toasted, are a tasty, nutritous snack. But did you know that the tender vine tips and newly opened baby leaves of the calabaza tropical pumpkin are also edible? The calabaza tropical pumpkin grows exceptionally well during our summer months when very little else will. A single plant (50 ft vine!) took over the entire garden the year I tried it. However, that’s another story.

By now I think you’re getting the picture on this GoGo Gardening concept. Don’t go around munching on anything and everything in the garden, though. Some of the stems, vines, leaves or roots can be toxic. Things like tomatoes…. only the fruit is edible, so far as I know. Rhubarb leaves are definitely off limits. You can only eat the stems and then only after they are cooked.


Papaya - Red Thai
Papaya – Red Thai

That killing freeze last winter did quite a job on our papaya garden. Is that what you call it? or is it more correct to say ‘grove’? Doesn’t much matter because every one of the 13 plants just turned to mush, from the top down. Dad said to cut them back and keep cutting until I reached a solid trunk and that they would grow back from there. And so I sharpened the old machete and started whacking.

That didn’t help at all. The stumps just kept turning to mush and I finally gave up and ignored them. I had better things to do in the garden.
Next time I checked, 3 of the stumps had little green sprouts! One of them ultimately died but the remaining two stumps grew like mad. We didn’t have just two papaya trees, though. Each stump produced four ‘arms’, and of the four, two on each stump were super vigerous and two were slower and smaller. I probably should have pruned out the smaller branches but I didn’t. Mostly, I just left it all alone and let Nature do her thing.
And so we now have papaya again and as you can see from the picture, there’s certainly no shortage of it. The fruit started about 18″ from the ground and just kept on going. There’s a row of fruit around the tree, then a row of flowers which ultimately turned into another row of fruit… on and on. And the trees are still blooming and setting more little fruits!
I’m looking at the calendar now. Hopefully, we’ll have a “normal” season and most of the fruit will be able to ripen. Heaven knows, I’m certainly ready for some fresh, home-grown papaya fruit! 

Herb Gardening

Yesterday, my neice and I visited an herb farm. She’s into making herbal things like soap, body rubs, lotions and all that stuff and was having a hard time finding what she wanted. I just like to grow things… and I’ve been looking more and more at herbs. I’m learning to use them in cooking at this late stage in my life and of course, I simply love the smell when you walk through the garden and brush against some of them.

We found (and purchased) prostrate rosemary. I have a nice “regular” rosemary plant but it grows upright. I saw the trailing variety at the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot recently and just fell in love with it. And we found (and again, purchased) a perennial basil. “African Blue Basil” was written on the tag. I need to do some research into that one to see just how hardy it really is. There was a very nice variety of herbs available, many I’d never even heard of before.

I got everything potted into larger clay pots yesterday evening and put them in a semi-shaded area so they could adjust to their new home. They came from a very shady place, one with lots of big oak trees in addition to the shade house itself. Here, they just have the shadehouse. Most herbs like sun but I don’t think they need it all at once.

I put a fennel plant in the back part of the half-barrel planter out by the end of the driveway. It should produce a nice tall and lacey background for the lower growing plants that are already there. I saw a lot of containers at Epcot that used fennel as the tall accent in a grouping. Let’s see if it will work for me.

Today I have to find a home for a second fennel and two un-named lavender plants. I wouldn’t have bought those if the lady hadn’t shown me some mature plants near her house. On the table in the shadehouse, these little things were downright puny and very insignificant. The mature plants, however, were simply lovely.

I promise to get some pictures posted later today or maybe tomorrow. You know how it goes around here. Even the simplest of chores sometimes takes an entire day or longer!

“Frost” on the Pumpkin, indeed!

Well, that bit of frost in early December turned into a hard freeze with the temperature dropping to 24 at one point. I was totally unprepared for THAT, so needless to say, we lost a lot of plants. Not the pumpkins, though.

My prized, very old Desert Rose plants both appeared totally dead. I could only hope some roots deep in the pots might send up new shoots, if and when spring arrived. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe the Earth has tilted on its axis and we are living in Zone 4 these days!

The big, very old white plumeria was ruined. Once again, hope was all I had.

The clump of bananas was totally black. I figured the trees were beyond hope, from the looks of them.

Naturally, the starfruit tree suffered. That poor thing has died back to the roots every winter since we planted it. The worst part was that it finally had a single small fruit this time. Sigh!

And all the moringa trees were dead.

All the ruined plants really depressed me. On top of that, a family situation developed that really changed life on our little farm.

Oh, well. Life goes on whether you feel depressed or not.

And around here, Winter disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived. We got a totally surprising rainfall and the weather has stayed somewhat warmer than normal ever since. By February, it was firmly into Spring and of course that meant “garden time”.

This year I decided to go back to container gardening, using the many Earthboxes I have, rather than struggling with raised beds and all the multitude of soil-born problems.

First of all, I tore up the raised beds and raked the soil in them over the low spots in the garden area. I kept the beds that run along the fence but I’m using them a bit differently. Instead of using them to grow vegetables, I’ve planted one section with three Barbados cherries and a citrus tree. The other section has blackberries planted. Since the fruiting plants are still quite small, I’ve planted some veggies in between them.

Then, I rolled out the heavy black stuff that I normally use as flooring in the shadehouse. It’s that woven plastic stuff you see in most plant nurseries. Keeps out the weeds and grass and provides a clean walkway.

Then I lined up the Earthboxes and started filling them with fresh soil.

I’ve used Earthboxes for a number of years in my container garden, but as with anything else, I only followed the directions for the first year or two. Then I began modifying little things here and there… and eventually my Earthbox garden became a weedy, tangled mess that didn’t produce much at all. That’s why  I tried the raised beds when we moved here. This year, I’m going back to the basics and following the instructions to the letter.

I have pictures of the various stages of my Earthbox container garden. Stay tuned as I get them uploaded. Trust me… you will be totally amazed at my garden this year!