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May 20, 2016

Natural Plant Supports in the Garden

Moving away from the conventional. Towards natural, easy, less-work. Evolving.

When I just started gardening, about ten years ago, I joined the league of hardware store customers, buying plant supports, stakes, cages and other inventions, and then installing and removing these contraptions every gardening season. It is a lot of work.

Ideally, in my "ultimate" garden there will be no outsiders. Plants would thrive together relying on each other's community-valuable qualities, among which is the ability to support climbers.

Another thing to mention, is that in Florida we don't have to worry about "full-sun" requirements. If anything, there is too much full sun in the Summer, and for the most part in the Winter too. Shade is welcome in Florida gardens. And with shade come trees. Yes, it is beneficial to have trees in the garden.

Cucumbers are cool-loving plants. Naturally, we would want to start them from seed when the last frost had passed, something around the end of February. But in doing so we are inviting cucumber borers whose season coincides with this traditional cucumber planting time. Should we wait longer, and it is too hot for the cucumbers to thrive.

This year I experimented with seeding cucumbers in April, under the trees. Turns out this was a smart decision.

Here's five cucumber plants living happily in the same container under a wax myrtle tree. Even if I step outside now and the air temperature is in the 90's, it feels much cooler next to the fence under this tree. Cucumber does not seem to mind not having "full sun". On the opposite, it likes cool moist ground, plenty of small branches to grab on, and dappled shade.

The wire around the plant is to protect it from my ducks. If you don't have other two-legged hooligans in the garden, you don't need the wire.

This is very encouraging. And I will continue experimenting and seeding cucumbers under other trees throughout the summer. 

A side note - I believe planting in containers next to the trees is the way to go, versus digging the hole next to the tree roots. An additional benefit to having a container is that when you water the plant, some water will trickle down to the tree roots and feed the tree.

P.S. This cucumber is Sumter. I love this strain, it is tasty and resilient.

February 10, 2016

Protect Papaya trees (and others, like coffee) from frost

Tonight it will be, hopefully, the last danger of frost night for this season. It usually works like that, when plants need to be covered, the weather is the nastiest and most unfriendly to the poor person who has this task at hand. I had to struggle with the comforters to cover my coffee forest. The trees are quite tall now, and the blankets just did not want to stay put. Finally, after much effort, coffee is covered, and probably grateful. Here it is. Peekaboo!

In the Spring, after coffee stops fruiting - it seems like it never stops fruiting though - I will prune the trees to about four feet of height to make it easier to cover next winter, and to renew the trees. They are supposed to be pruned of dead wood and old branches.

One thing I need to mention is that if there is hard frost coming, something like 28F, these quilt covers will not be sufficient. On cold hard freeze nights I use real comforters on my coffee trees.

Papaya is more tolerant.

Or maybe it is easier to get and grow.

But, for one thing, it is difficult to cover the whole papaya tree, as they usually are pretty tall, and secondly, they regenerate after frost damage rather easily. I normally, just wrap the trunk with the blanket and let the leaves to be damaged. Come spring, papaya will grow new leaves and branches.

Here is papaya tree that is probably four years old. It gets damaged every year, but then it grows new stems from the trunk (that was wrapped), and continues fruiting with abundance.

Keep warm tonight, and before we know, it will be Spring and new gardening adventures here in sunny Florida.

January 30, 2016

Coffee Seedlings! Growing coffee trees from seed in Florida

In one of my previous posts I talked about my coffee forest consisting of four coffee trees. At the time of this post I planted about twenty seeds from my own harvest. I have never done this before. From what I read on the Internet, coffee can take somewhere from two to six months to germinate from seed.

This morning I was so excited to see two of the seeds sprouting!

So, it's been about two months since planting. As you can see, I just used a regular seedling tray, a leftover from some plants I bought some time ago, that I filled with potting mix. The tray sat on my counter, covered with wrap. Temperature was in the 60's to 70's the whole time, as it is Winter now in Florida. Quite possibly they would've sprouted earlier if the temperature was higher.

However, I would not stand by that statement. I don't know enough of sprouting coffee. Maybe it sprouts in cooler temperatures in anticipation of spring.

I had a good harvest from my existing coffee trees. They are easy to grow and are fun to look at. I am certainly willing to expand my coffee forest to as many trees I can get my hands on, or however many will sprout.

January 28, 2016

Florida Fall Colors

Florida is different. It is the end of January, and we are having a typical "up-north" September weather here in Central Florida. It is rainy, gloomy, and quite cold, by the Florida standards, even during the day. But look, we have fall colors. I enjoy a variety of trees in Central Florida, and some of them even change colors. This is a rare, short-lived sight. Soon the trees will shoot new leaves, overnight, and Spring is just around the corner.

If it were "up-north", we would be eating the last of our canned tomatoes and other vegetables, and keeping fallen leaves in the piles to compost under the blanket of snow. In Florida we are starting tomatoes and pepper seeds on the top of the fridge. We just recently had our first and possibly last frost night. Some tender tropicals were damaged.

I took care of covering my coffee trees and remaining tomato plants. Papayas had some damaged leaves, but the fruit did not suffer. Hopefully, this was the last frost. It is quite a chore to cover up tall trees.

Soon box stores will start selling seeds again. Funny, management thinks in "up north" terms too. They only know of spring planting season, even in Florida, where we garden mostly in winter.

This year I will not start seedlings inside. In about a month I will plant the seeds - meaning tomatoes and peppers - right in the soil, under inverted jars. This way I will skip transplanting and will let the plants establish themselves where they may. I also will be experimenting planting tomatoes under papaya trees for natural support, as well as under pigeon peas that I planted in the garden as a manner of nitrogen-fixing plant as well as natural stakes for tomatoes.

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