Watch My Food Grow ~ A South Florida Raised Vegetable Garden

Florida Backyard Raised Vegetable Garden

Ladybug Desire

July 17th, 2014 by Lila Steinhoff

Aphids Made Me Do It

Last year, the okra in my garden was covered with aphids. I wanted to use natural pest control, and ladybugs were the answer. I ordered live ladybugs from an online vendor.

mail order ladybugs

Mail Order Ladybugs

I released my mail order ladybugs into the garden and the aphids were controlled in three days and for the rest of the season. All was well.

Releasing ladybugs

Releasing Ladybugs

Where Will They Go?

I saw a few ladybugs on plants throughout the garden during the rest of the spring growing season, but I was concerned about what would happen to them at the end of the season. That is when all the plants are pulled out and the garden is covered with a sheet of clear plastic for about eight weeks of solarization to kill the weeds, insects, etc that are in the soil before it is planted again.

I considered building a ladybug habitat so they would have a place to go while the garden was covered. Procrastination got the better of me. I never got around to it. Since the herbs were all that was left during the summer, I really didn’t expect to see any ladybugs when I planted in October.

They’re Ba-a-ack…

Surprise! I didn’t have very many, but I did see a few ladybugs on different plants during the season.

ladybug on spinach

Ladybug on Spinach

Today, I noticed that I have aphids… again. I was thinking that I should order another bunch of ladybugs, because I had seen too few to take on a plague of aphids again. Then, I saw that my problem of needing more ladybugs was being solved on an eggplant leaf.

Nature Solving a Natural Problem…

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Okra: Garden Finger Food

June 30th, 2014 by Lila Steinhoff

Still Growing

It is the first of July, and the garden is nearly done for the season. The days are in the 90s,  the sun is unrelenting and the remaining plants are losing their leaves and getting spindly. It is just about time to pull up everything and prepare the boxes for the summer. .. except the okra.

okra plants

Okra Plants

Okra takes the heat very well. I do have to water it every day, but it is still blooming and producing.

okra blossom

Okra Blossom

I am getting enough okra for supper at least twice a week.



Okra is ready to eat when the pods take on a long, cone shape with noticeable ridge lines. The mature size ranges from about 3 to 5 inches. If okra is left on the on the plant too long, it develops fibers that are too tough to chew and is not good to eat.

My okra patch is roughly 4 feet square and will produce a few pods every day.

bagged okra

Bagged Okra

I cut the pods that are mature and store them in the fridge in a plastic bag with a barely damp folded paper towel in the bottom. This keeps the okra fresh until there are enough for a meal.

Okra is on my favorite food list. I would guess that most people have eaten fried, breaded okra chunks or had it in gumbo at various restaurants.  Many others have been repelled by the nightmare version… boiled and/or slimy. That is so NOT what you get if it is fried fresh from the garden. Okra, fried whole in the pod, is my favorite way to eat it.

How I Cook It

Begin with a skillet large enough to contain the okra in a single layer. I like a cast iron skillet best, but occasionally, I have used a large non-stick skillet. Both work very well.

cast iron skillet

Skillet with Oil and Salt

Heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet and sprinkle a little salt in the bottom. I use olive oil and coarse sea salt.

okra in skillet

Okra in Skillet with Oil and Salt

Lay the okra in a single layer in the skillet and cook it slowly with medium heat. The idea is to lightly brown the okra, turn it and brown the other side. It takes 4 or 5 minutes on each side to cook inside and brown the outside.

Okra Feast

Place the cooked okra on a paper towel to drain and cool enough to be hand held… yes, this finger food at my house.

fried okra

Skillet Fried Okra

The perfect way to eat the okra is to put the pointy end in your mouth and bite it off at the stem. Toss the stem and repeat. So good!


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Attack of the Killer Eggplant

June 20th, 2014 by Lila Steinhoff

Eggplant Injury

Many of my friends know that I spent the last couple of weeks preparing for surgery on the middle finger of my right hand. Just today, one  asked how it turned out. A second friend was completely surprised and wanted to know what she had missed.

What follows is the story of my eggplant injury experience… not your usual strange, creepy story.

Prolific Eggplant

Gardening partner Bill and I planted a few different things for the growing season that began in October, 2013… among them eggplant… Japanese eggplant and the classic eggplant. Actually, eggplant was Bill’s choice, but I have not been disappointed… attacked, but not disappointed.

classic eggplant

Classic Eggplant

Both grew incredibly well and have produced way more eggplant than I expected from just two plants.

Japanese eggplant

Japanese Eggplant and other Veggies

More Recipes, Please…

I was sort of ho-hum about eggplant before I planted it in the garden. My favorite Italian restaurant used it in a really good pasta dish, but I had had little success cooking it at home. There was that soak and salt and drain business to take out the bitterness… too much work for something I didn’t like that well anyway.


Classic Eggplant

However, we found that what we took right from our garden to the pan was not a bit bitter. Apparently, fresh makes a difference.

I looked up recipes for eggplant Parmesan and have become quite competent at cooking that. Now, I am always in the market for more ways to fix eggplant.

sliced eggplant

Sliced Eggplant

Holy Crap! Thorns!

However,  I am NOT competent at cutting ripe eggplants off the plants, and recently, I suffered the consequences.

eggplant thorns

Thorns on Eggplant

Did you know there are thorns on eggplants?

thorns on eggplant flower

Thorns on Eggplant Flower

And even on eggplant flowers? There are, and they are as bad as a cactus!

How It Happened

While cutting eggplant in the garden, I rubbed my finger against the green cap and got a finger full of thorns. I pulled out all I could see, washed the finger and put ointment on it.

Occasionally, I felt something odd in my finger, but nothing hurt… until three weeks later. I felt something sticking me under the skin. If there was a thorn still there, it should have festered out by then, but instead it began to hurt and was getting red. I tried the old alcohol and needle trick to remove the thorn. I opened nearly half an inch of skin, but didn’t see a thing.

Spoiler Alert! Gross Stuff Follows

Since I now had an open wound on a finger that really hurt, I began soaking it in hot salt water. The following morning, Sunday, the open place had become white and a hard shell had formed… weird. The infection was worse, so I began taking an antibiotic and kept soaking it.

thorn injury

Soaking Thorn Injury

Went to my dermatologist first thing Monday morning. It was exactly a month since I had gotten the thorn in my finger. She took one look at it, prescribed a stronger antibiotic and sent me to a hand surgeon.

The hand surgeon said it had to come out, but I needed a CT scan first. Since the thorn had been in the finger a month, he had to check for infection in the bone before surgery. The CT scan showed the growth but no thorn. There was no bone involvement, so surgery was scheduled for Friday the following week. In the meantime, I continued to soak the finger in hot salt water.

No Wonder They Use Dawn on those Oily Baby Ducks!

Since husband Ken does not cook or wash dishes, and I knew I could not put my hand into water until the stitches were out, I cooked several meals ahead on Wednesday. I finished the evening by scrubbing pans using Dawn dish detergent. I was drying my hands when I noticed that the hard white shell on my finger was gone, and so was the pain. There was a small divot in my finger, but the skin was dry and smooth… no open place where the growth had been.

Strange and Relieved

I called the surgeon on Thursday to cancel Friday’s surgery. He wanted to see the finger, so I ran over to his office. He had no explanation for what happened to the growth. I have to rub the finger with vitamin E for a couple of weeks, because he wants to be sure no scar tissue forms over the nerve that runs under the divot. Weird experience, but I’m very relieved that no cutting was necessary.






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