It’s taken me so long to put this post together – I have had a very shaky internet connection lately and the uploading took forever – but here it is at last – and while I was in the process, the garden has changed so much, from the straw-mulched infant garden stage to flourishing and leafy. Even now it’s at the decline, smothered in vines and looking peaky. It’s so interesting to see the changes that happen over the season. As much as possible I am trying to arrange the photos side-by-side to see the growth. The first photos were taken in late May, and then again in June. The weather was very different each time – first warm and very dry, and then hot and very rainy and wet.
The title for this post came from my daughter, Rose. We were working together in the garden, harvesting melons and carrying them out, picking huge bouquets of flowers, potfuls of cherry tomatoes, and checking on the first planting of sweet corn. I was telling her how this was my best garden, ever (it always is, isn’t it!). She looked up and across the garden, shading her eyes, and said, “Mama, this is a brag garden.”
Yes, I suppose it is!
I’m quite proud of it. Only a few short months ago, it was empty pasture, filled with grass and tough weeds. I wasn’t sure what to expect this year, but I put my whole heart into it.
Here it is! I wish you could just walk through it with me – it’s hard to show off with just photos!
This is what you see when you first walk in. You can’t see it from these photos, but all around the edges I’ve planted pumpkins that have rambled. Pumpkins love so much to grow out of compost piles, I made them little compost piles to grow from instead of planting them in rows! I would dig up a spot, dump a bucket of cow manure, put the soil back on top, and mulched all around it generously with wood chips. The pumpkins loved it.
In these photos you can see the trellises I’ve put up all the way down the garden for winged beans, long beans, Malabar spinach, and edible gourds like ash gourd, snake gourd, and cucuzzi. I also planted dill as an herb and flower. It grows more easily in the winter, but I find it to be a very beautiful flower in the early summer garden, and I like to use the flowers, seeds, and leaves in summer pickles.
In the front and on the right I planted eggplants and blackeye peas. Beyond that (maybe not visible) I have green cotton growing, and papalo growing amongst the gourds.
You can see how the vines grew. I wish I had supported the top more – last year I had planted the gourds very sparsely and it wasn’t a problem – this year they caved in the top, so I have to crawl inside to check for gourds! Also a wild pumpkin (planted by the pigs?) grew at the end of the gourd trellis. It’s spreading out all over the place as well, setting enormous dark green pumpkins.
On the other side of the gourd trellises are rows of roselle, cranberry hibiscus, okra, and sunflowers. The sunflowers I mostly planted to distract the sap-sucking stink bugs from the okra, but they are also so pretty and helped shade the weeds out. For weed control (a huge problem in the summer), I spread out old, moldy oat hay we got at a discount, and planted thickly so that any weeds would quickly get shaded out. I mulched around roots with wood chips once the starts or plants were a little established.
One of my favorite plantings ever is here in this row – this year I planted kenkir yellow cosmos (from Adaptive Seeds) between the roselle and cranberry hibiscus, and the bright yellow flowers look so pretty with the burgundy red hibiscus leaves (this photo of the kenkir cosmos is from a different spot). They are a new favorite flower – so bright and pretty! I wish I had time to try dyeing some wool or fabric with them. They look like they would make a beautiful color.
Between the second planting of sweet corn and the two millet plots, I planted a large plot of Valencia peanuts. This was also from saved seeds. I can’t wait to harvest them! I planted one other new kind of peanut this year in the same row as the okra and hibiscus – black peanuts. They are growing very well, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the harvest is.
Can you believe this garden? It’s so big and full of all kinds of strange things. After the okra and hibiscus, I planted plots of different staple crops – two large plots of sorghum, three succession plantings of sweet corn planted two weeks apart, and two kinds of millet – Mochi Awan from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Hell’s Canyon from Adaptive Seeds. These were all from seeds I had saved, so it’s the first year I’ll have a lot of these grains to store and cook.
After the plots of grain, there are bush beans of many colors – Royalty Purple Pod, Dragon Tongue, Beurre de Rocquencourt, Borlotti, and Roma beans. These have faded, and been pulled and replaced with tomatillos by now. Everywhere I could, I tucked in flowers – coral cockscomb, zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, celosia, and love-lies-bleeding.
These are the Dragon Tongue beans – the purple streaks fade to green when they are cooked, but they are so pretty in the garden!
After the beans were plots of the early-planted summer squash and other c. pepo squashes that are so sensitive to the stem borers and other bugs like Spaghetti squash and Delicata pumpkins (and a few Zuchhino Rampicantes and Cushaw squashes that found their way in). I planted them with lots of zinnias to help confuse pests – even so, I still went through and picked the stem borer moth eggs off every few days, and squashed squash bugs whenever I had a chance. I planted my favorite summer squashes – yellow crookneck, Benning’s Green Tint scallop squash, and Cocozelle Italian zucchini.
I planted a lot of zinnias around the squash this year. Two of my favorites here – Candystick zinnia and Senora Zinnia, one of the cactus-flowered kinds. They are so attractive to butterflies, too.
On the very farthest edge, I have a very tall trellis planted with different kinds of currant and cherry tomatoes – anything small-fruited. I didn’t get a very good photo of this, unfortunately. They are companion planted with marigolds and basil. I used to suffer with large-fruited tomatoes years ago, but for the past three seasons I’ve only grown small-fruited tomatoes. They are so prolific and much easier to grow. I used to spend hours hand-picking caterpillars off of the plants every evening, and even so would have to pick the tomatoes still green and ripen them inside just to get any red tomatoes at all. If an army worm took one little bite before I had picked it, the whole thing would spoil. It was such a pain. The small-fruited tomatoes keep growing for ages, pumping out tomatoes with hardly any effort at all other than to keep them tied up and picked.
Here are the tomatoes, then the squash, and a border of Callaloo and Mayo Indian Red amaranth.
For a long time the amaranth made a striking and beautiful border (I had it planted on the other side with the yellow Kenkir cosmos – I love the way they look with dark foliage). Hurricane Elsa knocked them all down, and now I’ve been harvesting the grain. It grew very, very tall this year – about 10 or 12 feet tall.
Here is the love-lies-bleeding bordering the second planting of sweet corn. It has faded by now, but was so beautiful and romantic in its glory days.
Farther down I made short trellises for the melons – my goal was to just keep the fruit slightly off the ground. It helps them ripen and not spoil in heavy rain (I have found). I’ve tried trellising melons on tall trellises, and they are kind of a pain. They love growing over the short trellises – basically made from a strip of fencing and the hoops we made for holding up frost cloth/plastic for the winter garden. The sunflowers grew up and added color and beauty to the plot.
This is one of the Kajari melons – I love these melons! They are prolific producers and don’t mind the bugs and humidity as much as the other melons. They also turn a beautiful orange with green stripes when ripe – which makes it easy to know when to pick. We picked quite a few other melons (I grew Ice Cream, Passion, and Charantais) too late and too early unfortunately.
It was a very pretty planting – I’ll definitely do it again.
Farther down here, there are rows of lima beans and an experimental planting of chickpeas (they hated the damp – will try again in the fall), right next to the plots of millet.
These are the cucumbers – I planted them on a tall trellis. The area turned out to be shadier than I had thought it would, and they were not as happy as they would have been in full sun. It’s a funny thing about gardening in a new place – there are so many little quirks I knew so well about my old garden that I am having to learn with this garden.
I planted them, as I always do, with Rubenza cosmos, orange cosmos, and nasturtiums.
They are called ‘Alaskan Salmon’ or something like that. They were very pretty and a few are even still blooming, despite the horrible heat (I think the shade helped this). I planted so many plants this year because I am doing a seed grow out again, so I wanted to have at least 24 plants (12 per side). I didn’t actually make my family eat this many cucumbers.
I really love this kind of cucumber. It’s called Parade, and I’ve been saving seed and growing it exclusively for about 6 years now (I think?). It is a pickling and fresh eating cucumber, and it always has great flavor. I grew lots of different “never bitter” cucumbers, and this one was the only one that actually seemed to make good on that promise. It pickles beautifully at all stages – even the more mature ones I seed and chop fine for pickle relish, and is wonderful to eat off the vine as well.
On the other side of the cucumbers I planted (for the first time) Chires baby corn. We missed picking most of it – though it was very tasty – but at least it becomes popcorn when it ripens fully.
I had a few rows of mustard greens we enjoyed in the early summer. They don’t bolt quickly if they are planted after the cold/heat swings of spring are finished. It isn’t the heat that makes them bolt, but the heat after a spell of cold. We enjoyed them for awhile – there are even a few still edible ones left at the edges.
After the Chires baby corn, there is a big plot of watermelons, with zinnias planted between. I started them very early, in late January, and we did get a lot of melons from them (I still have 8 sitting in my kitchen, waiting for someone to eat them, and more still in the field!).
This was my favorite zinnia this year, a beautiful peachy pink, like a ballet slipper. I hope to save seeds. Because it was from a mix, it was just one plant – and I’m not sure if it will grow true with all the other zinnias around.
These Oklahoma pinks seemed to grow true – they have even re-seeded themselves in my old garden!
Here – looking back across the garden. This was when it was the prettiest! Now the sorghum, millet, and most of the corn has been harvested, cut, and replanted with sesame, eggplants, okra, and flowers. The vines have taken over, and huge pumpkins are lying everywhere, slowly ripening to orange.
Along the very front I planted dent corn, which is now very tall, about twice as tall as I am. The enormous pumpkins that wind their way between the plants give the impression that you are very small when you walk between the rows. The short trellis in the first picture was planted with Blue Butterfly pea.
Between the watermelons and the peanuts is a long plot of different sweet potatoes, and 20 papaya trees I don’t have pictures for.
By now the garden is fading into it’s late summer version. But there is still plenty of food. Most of what I grew this year were staple crops that could be stored – only a few things like tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplants and okra were for pickling and fresh eating. The late summer delights – the gourds and pumpkins, okra, eggplants are making their way into the kitchen, and I’m busy on every dry afternoon threshing and winnowing the millet and sorghum.
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All that flat space must be nice. Gee, I miss flat space. Sorghum is something I have not tried yet. I was pleased to see the Baker Creek Seed still sells it.
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I can’t imagine trying to garden on something that isn’t flat! Sometimes I really appreciate living here, I guess, despite the drawbacks! This sorghum was from Adaptive Seeds – I highly recommend it. After the first harvest in late June/early July, I cut the stalks and fertilize it again. They re-grow from the roots and make a second harvest. it’s very rewarding to grow. It’s a grain sorghum rather than a syrup sorghum. I’ve heard also that planting sorghum near tomatoes can create a trap crop for the sap-sucking stink bugs. I haven’t actually noticed any of them on this sorghum, but maybe it works that way. Here is the link for the seeds: https://www.adaptiveseeds.com/product/grains/sorghum-ba-ye-qi-organic/
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I noticed that some varieties of sorghum can produce either syrup or grain, depending on how they are left to mature. That appeals to me because I could grow a single variety, and take some early for syrup, and leave some for grain. Really though, seed is cheap, and when I get around to growing it, I really should get one for syrup and another for grain, or just not bother with the grain. After all, syrup was my priority. Sugar cane was still grown as an ornamental grass like perennial in Beverly Hills prior to about 2000 or so. I would like to grow it here, but it does not perform as well. Besides, I really would like to try sorghum. Well, there are many things I would like to try. A lack of flat space does not make it easier. I think I had less flat area on ten acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains than I had on an eighth of an acre in the Santa Clara Valley. I really miss gardening in the Santa Clara Valley.
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Yes, some are definitely dual purpose! Sugar cane does really well here, probably better than sorghum (it grows like a weed – I have a little patch Ethan planted in a bad place and the animals are constantly getting in and ravaging it, and it’s still growing fine). Definitely try sorghum! It doesn’t mind shorter seasons or cooler temperatures. The little gardens I saw in the alps were all terraced – such a pain, but once established I guess it works. The mountains around where we stayed in the alps were all terraced from centuries ago when people grew wheat there.
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Oh, I forgot that you are in Florida. I thought you were in Virginia. I know that sugarcane is ‘supposed’ to grow in Zone 9, which is what this region is in, but I also notice that it does not like the mildly cool winters in Beverly Hills. Winters here get significantly cooler, and stay cooler a bit longer. I will be going down south either late this year or early next year, and intend to bring back a few items that I can only get there. If I notice sugar cane, I will get some, even if it is red. If it is not happy here, at least I will know.
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You are zone 9 too? We do get frost here – it goes dormant in the winter. I’ve heard the local people say they used to cut the cane right before a hard frost, and then squeeze it the next day to get better syrup. I wonder if it’s more the rainfall? It likes a lot of rain in the summer time. If you’re in North Florida Gainesville area, let me know! You’re welcome to stop by! It’s worth trying out at least – people will always say things like, “You can’t grow …. here,” and so often it’s something I actually grow, but just because I’ve ignored that kind of thing and just tried growing lots of different plants at different times of the year. We get hot/dry, cold/dry, cold/wet, and hot/wet weather, so chances are you can probably grow it here unless it needs a certain day length or spell of dry weather.
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The lack of rainfall can be compensated for with irrigation. That is how it can grow in Southern California. The aridity might be more of a problem. I do not remember it ever looking ‘bad’, but I do not remember it ever looking very good either.
When I got my maple syrup, it was because I was so annoyed by colleagues who insisted that it could not be done here. I know why it is not done, but there is no reason for it to be impossible. It is merely impractical because the brief winter changes to spring too fast.
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Lol, that’s so cool you made your own maple syrup! I agree, a lot of things maybe are just not practical business-wise….but on a small scale, for just you, why not?
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Well, I did not make it. The maple tree did. I merely condensed it. I would not recommend doing it here, just because there is not much time to get the sap before the buds pop. Mine did not taste very good, as if mixed with a bit of spinach.
Incredible garden! Your hard work and knowledge shows off well here. The results are spectacular and worth bragging about.
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Thank you Denise! It’s nice to have something to show after all the hard work!