Watch My Food Grow ~ A South Florida Raised Vegetable Garden

Florida Backyard Raised Vegetable Garden

Planting in October

October 4th, 2014 by Lila Steinhoff

Herbs First

Today we prepared the garden boxes for the 2014 fall planting season. First on the list was the herb box. It’s been almost two years since the herb box was planted.  Most of the herbs were way overgrown. They had spread out everywhere and many had become very woody.

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Thinning and Trimming Herbs

The herbs needed to be thinned out and cut back. Gardening buddy Bill and I cut all the herbs down to the ground, leaving a few leaves on what was left. They will come back fast and will be healthy. We had a pile of herb clippings about two feet square when we were finished.

Remove Solarization Cover

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Removing Solarization Cover

We removed the plastic sheeting used for solarization from the middle box. We do not cover the herb box, because most herbs are perennials. We usually cover the other two boxes from sometime in August until the beginning of October.

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Talk Okra in Background

However, this year, only one box was covered. The okra planted in the extra the box behind Bill (who 5’10”) has grown to over 7 1/2 feet tall (never seen that before) and is still flowering and producing. The okra is doing so well that we are going to leave it until we get ready to plant tomatoes against the white tie-up bars.

Replacement Soil

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Adding Soil to Garden

Each year, the boxes lose soil from wind, rain and pulling out plants. To keep enough depth for root growth, the soil must be replaced. It takes about half a dozen bags of soil to do this. *A hint that works well… cutting the soil bag across each end and down the middle allows the dirt to be spread easily. Just pull on one side and roll the soil off into the garden.

Once the new soil is added, rake it out flat, spray water on it to level it and begin to plant.

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Raking Soil

 New Plants

The only herb we replaced was the parsley. We’ve decided not to grow cilantro again. It really does not do well in this garden, and fresh cilantro is relatively inexpensive to get elsewhere.

This year, we have nine broccoli plants with Swiss chard planted all around the broccoli in the rest of the box. Broccoli grows tall and bulky. There is plenty of room to grow chard all around it. Once the broccoli is finished and is pulled up, the chard will continue to grow in the box.

We bought tomatoes, but the plants were dry and rather limp. They needed to be watered and given a few days to recover before they are planted.

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Garden Boxes

So far, things are going well. I’m looking forward to another season of fresh vegetables.




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Okra Update

September 27th, 2014 by Lila Steinhoff

Still Blooming

Back in August when the other garden box was covered to solarize it for the remainder of the summer, the okra was still coming up strong. Since we don’t plant again until October, we decided to leave the okra until it quit producing.

Not only is the okra still producing, but it keeps on blooming! I know okra tolerates heat much better than anything else I grow, but, besides producing scads of okra, some of the plants are now 7-feet 4-inches tall using a tape measure.

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Tall Okra

I have never, ever had okra plants grow that tall. I have to pull the plants over sideways to bring them down low enough for me to cut the okra.

Over the last eight weeks, I have cut more okra than I ever expected to.

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Cut Okra

I have pickled okra, fried okra, put okra into gumbo and given away okra. I really like okra, but there is so much of it. I guess I will have to get new recipes off the internet.

Grandson Discovers Okra

Today, 3-year old grandson Graham came to visit and discovered okra. He saw me cutting it off the plants and wanted to help. I placed the cutters on the okra and let him squeeze them together to cut it. With a little help, he cut an impressive bunch of okra.

He piled up the okra and decided it looked really good. I washed a small piece and he bit into it.

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Grandson Eating Okra

It was a winner. He ate two pieces right off the plant. He knows good stuff when he tastes it.

Okra Festival

Graham’s Uncle Matt and Aunt Sarah (a former Okra Fest Queen) attend an okra festival near Orlando every year in October. Looks like Graham could be a tag-along for the next one.



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Sea Grape Tree

September 18th, 2014 by Lila Steinhoff

Too Hot to Do This

I haven’t been able to do much in the way of gardening for the last month or so. The heat and humidity in south Florida in the summer is oppressive. Most yard work is delayed until the end of November when the weather is much more bearable.

However, today I had to bite the bullet and trim the beautiful sea grape tree in my front yard.

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Sea Grape Leaves

Our yard maintenance guy came, and I had to move my car to keep it from being sprayed with grass clippings. I parked under a very old and very beautiful sea grape tree. I was parked two feet out from curb, and I still hit my mirror on a tree branch. This  pruning job couldn’t wait two more months.

The Old Lady of the Manor

This 30-foot tall sea grape tree is a treasure… old, beautiful and has multiple trunks that are 10 to 12 inches in diameter. It is at least 75 years old. Most of the trees on this property were planted when the house was built in 1937. I think this tree may be older, though. It sits at the very edge of the property near the street. That would be an odd place to plant a tree, so my guess is that the tree was already here when the house was built.

Serious Wind Damage

The sea grape grows branches everywhere on the trunk and limbs, and it grows them fast. Besides being an inconvenient parking obstacle, this much additional foliage creates a thick canopy and a serious hurricane issue for the tree. This tree was pretty much shredded during Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

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Sea Grape tree damaged during Hurricane Wilma.

The canopy had grown so thick, wind couldn’t blow through. Limbs 8 to 10 inches in diameter were twisted, shredded and ripped off. Many were left hanging by a strip of bark.

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Sea Grape Limbs after Hurricane Wilma

There was so much damage, that the pile of tree limbs that had to be removed was 6 feet high and 20 feet long.

Arborists Do the Pruning

Since 2005, we have been more vigilant about managing the canopies in our trees. In February, we had an arborist  prune several of the large trees on our property, including the sea grape.

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Pruning Sea Grape Tree

Sea Grape Growing Habits

Sea grapes are found all over the coastal areas of south Florida, and most of them are bushes rather than trees. The nature of sea grapes is to grow new branches that spread the plant.  It becomes more of a 6-foot tall hedge than a single tall tree, and tree suckers grow fast.

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Base of Sea Grape Tree

Rows of cut tree suckers can be seen along the base of my tree. They have to be cut continually, or I’d have a hedge instead of a tree.

To control the fullness of the canopy, the tree suckers that appear all over the tree have to be removed regularly, and today was the day. There were new tree suckers from the ground all the way up the branches.

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Tree Suckers on Sea Grape Tree

I managed to cut most of the suckers around the bottom, but I had to enlist the help of neighbor Bill to get the ones that were higher than I could reach even with a ladder.

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Removing Tree Suckers

Finished. Looks good!

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Pruned Sea Grape Tree

It took about half an hour to get the job done, and the resulting tree looks almost as good as it did after the professionals were finished in February. On the other hand, it was hot, hot, hot, and I was drenched in sweat and totally wrung out. I walked straight from the tree to the pool. Wet is wet, regardless of the attire. Once I got cooled down, I had three glasses of iced tea followed by a nap.








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