What’s Happening in the February Garden?

Butterflies are dropping their eggs, and some of my vegetable plants are looking much better, now that February in Florida has arrived.

Spring comes early in Florida. February is a good time to check the garden for signs of butterfly eggs and newly hatched caterpillars.

Swallowtails Laying Eggs

I noticed the black swallowtail butterfly laying her eggs all over my little dill plants. Now the black caterpillars are crawling around, eating and growing.

Monarchs on the Milkweed

Over Christmas we had a good freeze here in central Florida. Just in case my milkweed plants didn’t make it, I took some cuttings. Happily the cuttings grew roots and I now have a new milkweed plant!

So a few days ago I took more cuttings, not realizing there were eggs, or small caterpillars, on the leaves. The next day when I went to change the water in the pitcher, I found three tiny caterpillars on the cuttings!

The caterpillars eat and poop… so they began dropping little black turds everywhere. I didn’t want this. If I had known there were eggs on the leaves, I would not have cut the plant.

Every day I looked to make sure I could see all three.

Then, one morning the little caterpillar was nowhere! Finally I turned the vase around and there he was, on the side of the pitcher!

lost caterpillar

It was time to try to put these guys outside on the growing milkweed. Well, that was not as easy as you may think. I set the pitcher next to the milkweed, but they stuck to their original places. The tiny guy I picked up with a leaf from the new plant. When I went back later, all I could find was one big caterpillar who was still on the cutting! This is where he remains, although I leave the vase outside in a raised bed.

The cuttings are doing well, so hopefully I will have another new milkweed for the yard. I’m watching the one remaining caterpillar to see what happens.

That’s about it for the creatures, except for the unwanted white bugs. I hand-picked / squashed a bunch of these that were hiding in the tiny new growth on my eggplant. I’m not sure what they are, but probably some kind of aphid.

white aphids

Vegetables That Love February

Many of these vegetables were planted late last Fall. They survived the winter and are now beginning to love the warmer nights and not-too-hot days. I like February temperatures also. The humidity is lower and the days are sometimes hot, but bearable. A bit like a summer days in the north.

The pineapple had a lot of brown leaves. I had to cover some of these gardens when the temps dropped to near, or below, freezing.

The plants themselves are looking much better, but I’m not getting to eat from them. I have picked a few cherry tomatoes, a hot pepper here and there, and had some kale chips, which I made from my kale. I use the parsley and dill to cook, but all my basil died.

It won’t be long before the weather is too hot for the gardens to do well. I’m letting my lettuce to go seed so I can plant more next Fall. I do expect to continue to get peppers and also some eggplant soon.

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Building a Garden is Slow and Steady Work

Building a garden is slow and steady work, but once the ground is prepared, the fun begins. This may take days, weeks, months or years depending on the size of the garden and how much help you have in doing it.  Cats not included.

As a new gardener you may think that growing things is pretty straightforward. Buy the plants, dig a hole and put them in the ground. A little water here and there and soon you’ll see flowers or vegetables emerge.

Experienced gardeners know it is far from being that simple.

A Little Back Story

The first house I bought in New Hampshire had ready-made, lovely garden areas. I enjoyed picking asparagus from the perennial asparagus bed. Stunning tulips popped up in Springtime all over the yard, and the large perennials included wisteria, dogwood, and hydrangea trees! I enjoyed that yard for only two years, then moved on, through no fault of my own.

tulips and daffodils
My old New Hampshire Garden in Spring

The nice thing was the fact that the gardens were ready for planting. I could go buy pretty plants, or vegetables and put them into the ground and they grew nicely alongside already established additions. Prepared beds and established perennials are a wonderful treat for a homeowner.

After that, I have never lived in a ready-made gardening landscape. This means planning the site, tilling the soil, adding amendments, and finally buying the plants which will hopefully grow happily in their designated spots.

Without the extra finances (or help in the yard) to put toward all this, it can take years to accomplish a garden plan. Really.

In New Hampshire I had loam delivered each year. I moved wheelbarrows full of the dirt to various areas in my yard over the course of weeks. I’m an older lady and can’t do a lot in any one day, so I had to pace myself. Within five years time I had some pretty nice gardens in my yard – then I moved away.

The Here and Now

I moved into my Florida home in Fall 2016. My son built me a raised bed and I’ve been working on filling it since then. At the time this writing it is April 2018 and finally the bed is full of good soil which is ready for planting.

raised bed garden dirt
The raised bed is ready for planting

I’ve been using the raised bed as a mixing station. One end is free of plantings so I can dump bags of dirt and compost in and mix it up. After adding blood meal, bone meal, and fertilizer, I mix it up like a big stew and fill black pots to grow individual plants.  (By the way, as I was writing this, I discovered that not all “organic” labeled fertilizer is really organic.  Read my post about identifying real organic fertilizer and even bags of dirt.)

I also had to re-plant a big bucket in the yard where everything froze over the winter.  This pot used to hold a huge croton.  Now you can see what’s left in the background.

bucket of flowering plants
Big pot re-planted with crotons and flowering plants

Now that I’ve used that good dirt mix everywhere it was needed, I will plant more vegetables in the raised bed. From here on out, all that is needed is to amend the dirt with compost every so often and re-plant when needed. The hard work is complete.

Yahoo! Yippee! Hallelujah!

What’s Growing in My July Florida Garden

It is so hot down here in Florida in the month of July that I rarely go outside.  This morning I scurried around my yard and took some photos until I just couldn’t stand being out there.  I think I lasted less than 5 minutes. The heat index says it feels like 100 out there. Add in tons of humidity, and you have Yuk.

So lets begin with the flowers. The crotons and hibiscus are loving the heat. They were made to withstand summer heat in this disgusting climate. Thankfully we are getting lots of afternoon thunderstorms that keep me from having to go out and water.

red hibiscus
Red Hibiscus

My rose bush hasn’t had any blooms for a while, but I noticed a small rose and bud today. It probably needs more attention, and more fertilizer.

small carnival rose and bud
Small Rose and Bud

I bought some Impatiens when I first moved into the house, and unbelievably they are still looking pretty good! I also planted my mother-in-laws-tongue, or snake plant, in the ground and it is doing well. I’ve put a few of the big seashells I’ve collected into the garden as decoration. The older, worn shells look good displayed that way. I had to put them out front, away from the raccoons, so they wouldn’t drag them off!

seashells decorating garden bed
Seashells Decorate the Garden Bed

The Persian Lime tree is doing great. It’s still in a pot, and has lost a lot of the fruit it started with, but I still have some good size limes coming. I’ll have to figure out when to pick the fruit.

persian lime fruit on tree
Persian Lime Fruit

I have 2 eggplant plants, but neither one is growing any eggplants. They flower, and lose the flowers and keep growing tall.  They are a good spot for ladybugs to lay their eggs and eat aphid infestations, but that is about it.

Maybe there aren’t enough bugs to pollinate the flowers. I need more flowering plants in and around my garden.
But I tried. I bought a bunch of marigolds because I always grew marigolds in New Hampshire. They usually became beautiful rounded bushes with tons of flowers. But that is not happening to these marigolds.

eggplant
Eggplant

The marigolds have been growing for months, and I only have about 3 flowers total. The stalks have grown very long and tall, without flowering. It’s very bizarre. Marigolds are good to grow near tomatoes and other vegetables because they will help keep certain unwanted bugs away.

orange marigold
Orange Marigold

On to the tomatoes. I have 2 tomato plants still growing, but neither one looks exceptionally good. Both have some small green tomatoes, and I don’t know if I will get red ones to eat before the raccoons decide to help themselves.

Green tomatoes
Tomatoes

I tried covering the vegetable garden with netting, and I think that helped. But a papa cardinal somehow got inside the netting and was trapped in the garden! I went out and freed him, but I had to cut the netting off in the process. He was really freaking out, so I left the garden uncovered.
I’m not trying too hard to garden these days. It’s too hot, and I don’t think the vegetables like it either.
……. Happy 4th!

The Garden in March, One Month Later

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My Garden, March 2nd

Last month I began to plant my little garden in my Florida backyard. Because the raised bed was not filled with dirt, I used black fabric pots.

I began with crops that were more suited to cooler weather, like peas and lettuce.

Well, Skittle the cat decided to sleep in the bed of peas, so now only one stalk is growing as the others were a bit crushed. It was just the right spot for a nap in the sun. No worries Skittle, I’ll eat 2 peas and be happy.

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Skittle in the Peas

I also planted potatoes and they are growing like mad. I followed the directions from a blog I read and began by only filling the bags part way. Then I have added dirt as the tops grew. And boy did they grow! Course I’ll have to wait and see what’s happening down inside the bags, but hopefully I’ll have some little red potatoes to eat one day.

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Growing potatoes

I also just planted cucumber seeds and I see today that they are popping through the soil.  It only took 2 days for that to happen!

My two pepper plants are doing well, and one is blooming like mad.  This may be the year I am able to grow peppers.  They like heat, and yesterday it was 88 degrees, so there ya go.

I have more cardboard to put down in the bottom of the wood enclosure to keep the grass from growing up through.  Newspaper would work for that too.  Eventually I will empty the dirt out of my pots and fill the enclosure.  But first…. I may try to dig up the grass beneath the enclosure.

I always thought I would just set up the wooden bed and fill it with dirt and I’m ready to plant.  Now I have read at EarthEasy that I should dig down a ways to loosen the ground so roots can go down into the dirt beneath the bed.  This makes sense, as some vegetables do have long roots, but I didn’t think they needed that much space.

It got me wondering what the roots of vegetables look like, and which ones need the most depth to grow well.

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Bib lettuce and carrots

The Bib lettuce needed to be thinned and the carrots were planted using paper strips.  I had never used carrot seed tape before, and I bought it by accident.  The old method of mixing seeds with sand when sowing small seeds works fine.  I still had to thin the seedlings, even when I used the tape.

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March Tomatoes!

I can honestly say I have never had tomatoes growing in my yard in March!   In fact compared to gardening in New Hampshire, growth here seems to be accelerated.

Every time I visit the garden section I keep an eye out for hydrangeas.  I haven’t seen any for sale.

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