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Hurricanes, Aging and Learning to Face Your Limitations

I've been happily propagating and adding to my plant collection over 40 years and here for the past 4 years. I came here with 10 plants and now, due to the kindness of friends, mostly, have literally hundreds of plants to care for during hurricanes and freezes.

One of the drawbacks to living in an apartment complex is that they dictate what you do during bad weather. Now, with Hurricane Dorian bearing down on us, they've decreed that everything "loose" must be secured by Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, they're all off on their Labor Day holiday, pretty much saying we're on our own until Tuesday.

So I've been hauling plants into the courtyard, trying to put them as close to the concrete walls surrounding it as I can. I'm doing all this with a torn muscle in my shoulder and a bad back. Bette Davis was right when she said "Aging ain't for sissies!"

This has led me to the belief that in order to survive without injuring myself further, they'll pretty much stay this way until hurricane season is over, or the likelihood of a major storm has passed. In the meantime, I'll be trying to sell or give away as many as possible to make my chore less onerous during future storms and freezes.

I'm not really going to try to save many plants this winter. Only my most precious will come inside, or those that I know I can sell when spring comes. The rest that are planted in the ground or too heavy to haul inside will be on their own. If they die, they die. There is only so much I can do.

A friend pointed out that none of us is getting any younger, and said that she didn't replace plants killed during the last storms/freezes and she won't replace any that are lost in the future. I have pretty much the same attitude.

I can't take plants or seeds to Mexico, and why would I want to? I'm going to be living in an apartment there, and most apartments don't have courtyards or large balconies, so I'm going to go back to raising African Violets under lights, or maybe a few house plants. It's time to put the major outdoor gardening aside and bow to my aging body's screams.

It's sad when you have to come to the realization that you simply cannot do what you used to do. I used to haul hundreds of plants in and out of the house, porch and garage for every storm or freeze, but I simply can't do that anymore. I have pictures from all my gardens, and I'll have to be happy with those in the future, celebrating all I've done and changing my lifestyle to do what I can now.

All in all, it's been a wonderful gardening life, and even when I can only have a few plants, it will be worth the loss for a great, new life.

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in August (UPDATED in 2019)

Uh-Oh! Just realized that August is nearly over and I forgot to post this. Hope you found it from the link in the sidebar, but you have plenty of time to get things in the ground this month, plus, most of what can be planted in August can also be planted in September, so you're probably good.

The main garden season has finally arrived in Florida, and here in the northern part of the state, we are already planting our winter crops. Since we have a shorter growing season than Central or South Florida, we plant a lot of our cole crops and leafy greens in August. Yes, I know, it seems it would be too hot, but somehow they survive until it starts cooling a bit in September.

Month to Month in North Florida: What to Plant in June

NOTE: I forgot all about this post. I'm publishing it without many pictures for now because June is half over and I want to get it up. Sorry about that. It's been a busy month.

June is a harsh month in Florida, and most gardeners use it as a time to rest and plan for their August plantings, but there are still food crops that can be planted and grown, though many you may never have heard of.

Annuals to Plant in June in North Florida

During the heat of June, most annuals and perennials are added to the garden as established or starter plants,  not grown from seed. Look at your local garden center to see which plants are available this month.

There are very few annuals that can take full sun during the steamy Florida summers. Celosia, portulaca, vinca and sun-loving coleus will add color and blooms to your garden when other plants are taking a rest until cooler weather. Gaillardia blooms all summer and are excellent cut flowers.

Perennials & Bulbs to Plant in June in North Florida 

Heat-loving perennials and bulbs can also add texture and color to your garden. Add established plants to your garden and they will return year after year.

  • Pentas
  • Salvia
  • Lantana
  • Melampodium
  • Bulbine
  • Ornamental sweet potato
  • Canna
  • Crinum

Vegetables to Plant in June in North Florida

The common crops that can be planted in June are:

  • Sweet potatoes - These wonderful tubers aren't harvested until fall, but you can harvest the leaves to cook or use in salads as a leafy green. Just be sure not to take too many from one vine, or to remove the growing tip, of you won't get any tubers in the fall. I like to grow a separate crop, sometimes up a trellis, just for the leaves. 
  • Southern peas - You can eat southern peas green, or let them dry on the vine for storing. Black-eyed peas are probably the most well-known, but there are so many types & varieties of southern peas that you can plant an entire garden just of these. 
  • Okra - A cousin of the hibiscus, you either love or hate this easy-to-grow southern staple. I personally like boiled okra, but I mostly eat it fried or add it to soups and stews. Okra and tomatoes cooked with onions, flavored with bacon and served over rice is one of the south's most beloved comfort foods.
  • Eggplant - Although eggplant should be started from seed no later than March, you can still plant starter plants in June and then plant seeds for a later crop in early August for a crop before winter. There are dozens of varieties and sizes of eggplant that you can try if you don't like the large, grocery store varieties.
  • Hot Peppers - Like eggplant, these need to be planted as starter plants, but they can be both ornamental and edible. 

Tropical Vegetables

If none of the above four crops suit your fancy, tropical vegetables are a great alternative crop during the hot summer months.

Missing spinach? Leafy tropical spinach substitutes include

  • Chaya - CAUTION: While most of these can be eaten raw, Chaya leaves must be boiled for at least 10 minutes before eating to destroy the cyanic acids in the leaves.
  • Ceylon Spinach (Talinum fruticosum)
  • New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides)
  • Albemoschus manihot  (aka Hibiscus manihot)
  • Malabar spinach

Edible Hibiscus and More

Cranberry hibiscus (H. acetosella) - the leaves are a beautiful dark burgundy with a tart taste similar to sorrel, and can be eaten raw in salads or used to make a delicious tea. CAUTION: The leaves contain oxalic acid crystals,so only eat them raw in small quantities.

Albemoschus manihot - a mild, leafy green, which can be eaten raw, but is usually cooked due to its mucilaginous property.

Elephant Ears - The young, unfurled leaves of taro (Alocasia esculenta) and some Xanthasoma spp. can be cooked and eaten, and are sometimes used in the Caribbean dish Callaloo. The older leaves can be eaten, but are best chopped and cooked for longer periods to make them more tender.

Amaranth - All Amaranthus spp. plants have edible leaves, although some are tastier than others. A. palmerii, a common weed in Florida, should only be harvested in safe areas where there is no contamination from cars or pesticides. It is easily grown in the garden with little to no care. Red amaranth and Amaranthus cruentus (Callaloo) are two popular garden varieties, but even the very ornamental leaves of Joseph's Coat are edible.

Lambsquarters- (Chenopodium giganteum aka Mexican tree spinach) is another weedy plant that can be used as a spinach substitute. It can grow to 6 feet tall in fertile soil, and can be pruned as needed to prevent reseeding.

Purslane - grows wild in Florida, but seeds of hybrid varieties with larger leaves can be purchased. Do not eat purslane purchased as an ornamental, because it may contain systemic poisons.

So June is not really a barren month devoid of flower and food crops to consider planting. Try a few of these in your summer garden to keep it going during the hot and humid months.

If you've already grown some of these summer veggies, let us know in the comments.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Diary April 11, 2019 - Turning the Courtyard Into a Food Forest

I have had so much trouble with a lack of sun in my gardens. My courtyard gets some afternoon sun, but not enough to plant full-sun vegetables. Still, the bananas seem to grow tall enough to reach the sun, and do very well, so I figure what I need is fruit trees that can grow taller than the garden wall.

The courtyard isn't that big -- 11 x 14 feet -- so I can't grow a lot of trees. Also, there is about 1/4 of it where nothing can be planted due to gravel in the ground or my new small seating area. Still, I think I can get at least 3 fruit trees in there, maybe four.

Which Fruits to Grow?

A friend gave me three varieties of mulberry, and one is a bush type that can be kept small. I have two fig trees I had decided to put into large containers, but putting one in the ground may be a possibility. I'd also like to get a satsuma mandarin orange plant. I'm not too crazy about the banana variety I have, so those will probably go.

Understory Edible Plants

There are quite a few edible plants that I can grow underneath the trees. I've never been able to get any potatoes off my my sweet potato vines, but they keep coming up, so I figure I can just grow them as ground cover and eat the leaves, like I've been doing. It will be awhile before the trees completely shade the area, so I can also grow beans and some root crops in raised beds for quite a while. Of course, lettuce and greens will grow in shade, so that's a possibility. I can also grow things like malabar spinach and runner beans up trellises on the walls.

Maintaining Some Afternoon Sun, While Creating Shade

The trees will have to be planted so that they don't block the afternoon sun that hits the south wall of the apartment. I have a few plants there that need to stay dry and need sun to bloom, so right there under the front windows under the overhang is a great place for them.

My seating area needs some afternoon shade, so planting at least one fast-growing plant where it can provide shade there is a consideration. I was thinking seriously of putting up a cattle panel trellis and growing beans or maybe luffa on it.

Lots of Plants Will Have to Go

If I undertake this plan, I'll have to get rid of everything that is in the courtyard now, or find another place for it. I think maybe a plant sale is in order.

This will be a big project and a lot of work, but I believe that I've enriched the soil enough over the past four years that I could make this work. There seem to be earthworms everywhere.

If you have any tips or ideas, please leave me a comment.

Happy Gardening!

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in April (Updated 2019)

April is the last planting month for many vegetables in North Florida before the heat of summer comes. There are actually very few vegetables you can still start from seed, but you can still use starter plants for some, and there are oh so many

Garden Diary - March 16, 2019 - My Nearly Free Front Yard Bed

It's a nice, cool, cloudy day here in Gainesville, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to work on the newer front bed up by the fence. I'd stuck a few things up there, but it really was just trashy looking, no form, rhyme or reason.

Garden Diary: Feb. 23, 2019 OVERWHELMED!

The warm weather has come too soon, and I lost out on the cool weather I needed to get the beds ready for planting. I don't know if I'll be able to accomplish all that I had planned, because I simply can't work in the heat. Once it gets past 75 F, I have to go inside. 

So many "have to do this before I can do that" things are holding me back. I wanted to do the courtyard first, but I need to sell or give away

Garden Diary Feb. 1, 2019: Drastic Pruning Has Begun

I couldn't wait any more, so I went and whacked  back the Christmas cassia (Cassia bicapsularis) and the Cranberry hibiscus (H. acetosella). I was going to do the confederate rose too, but I want to root some of those cuttings to sell, so I need to wait a bit for those.

Maintaining Your Childlike Sense of Wonder

I frequent one particular gardening forum, and I hesitate to post at times, because I realize some of my posts are sort of silly to serious gardeners. I post about getting excited over cuttings rooting or seeds shooting up, but I am so in awe of nature that I just get excited about the tiniest things.

My grandmother was my gardening guru, and she taught me to never take anything for granted, and always be thankful for what nature gave

Garden Diary: January 21, 2019 Impatiently Waiting for Last Chance of Frost

I don't really like very cold, freezing weather, which is why I moved to Florida. I moved from SW Florida to North Florida because I missed the seasons. I wanted a short winter where things actually died back and went dormant, but it seems I may have to go a bit further north for that.

It's hard to tell what's going to happen to the weather nowadays. Last year, we had two hard freezes in January that killed back a lot of plants. I was  hoping for one this year,

Garden Diary: January 1, 2019: Drastic Changes in the Gardens in the New Year

2019 is a year of out with the old, in with the new for me. I started this garden with the hopes of growing food, but that didn't work out well at all. There is absolutely no full sun, so most of what I tried to grow either did nothing or very little. Plus, there is a distinct lack of pollinators, so even the things I managed to get to grow didn't produce anything. So I've had to rethink what I have and what I want.

Giving Up On Growing Most Veggies

My sweet potato patch produced only one twisted little potato that looks like a turnip, and two babies that grew from the vines growing into the

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in January

January is one of the coldest months in North Florida, but it's a great month for starting veggies for your spring garden. Put your potatoes in the ground this month, and start some tomatoes from seed or clone some from your existing plants for spring planting. You can also brighten up your landscape with the cute smiling faces of pansies or add a graceful camellia to your flowering shrubs. As the days get longer and winter is upon us, gardening is still going strong in our part of the state.