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2008 Seasonal Advice

    January is the time to ...
  • Make a New Year's resolution to use more mulch and compost on your garden. Already bags of leaves are out for every yard waste pick-up. Save those hard working men a little labor and take some home for your garden.
  • Try lemongrass, lemon balm, and roselle for a beautiful, delicious tea. If you don't have the true roselle, the caylxes of the cranberry hibiscus are almost as good. They give the lovely lavender color.
  • Try more plants from seeds. Willow LaMonte had seedlings of blue flax growing in the raised outdoor beds and has had it bloom through the late winter and spring here with the lovely blue flowers I loved in Iowa and thought I'd lost.
    February is the time to ...
  • Someone asked about planting poinsettias outdoors. I've put mine out but just sunk them pots and all so if there is another frost, I can bring them indoors for a night or two. Otherwise they love it outdoors. When danger of frost is past, you can take them up, turn then out of the pots and put them back in the holes. But they will not bloom next year unless they are where they don't get any artificial light. They need long dark nights to set buds. Otherwise they like full sun to partial shade and need to be kept watered while they are in the pots and pruned back after they stop blooming. Eventually they can get to be large shrubs.
  • Now is the time to cut grass clumps that are either straggly or full of dead grass back to the ground and let them come up again with new growth.
  • Help! The recent passage of the amendment to reduce and refund taxes to homeowners had a some very sad side effects. The state is slated to cut $24 million from the University of Florida's 2008 budget, plus more in 2009, and it's rumored that IFAS (especially Cooperative Extension) will be getting a disproportionate brunt of that cut. Please lend your support to and write or email your state legislators telling them how much the Cooperative Extension Office and the good people who work there have helped in our gardening and homekeeping efforts and ask them to find fund elsewhere. Libraries are also feeling the cuts, so mention them as well.
    March is strawberry time ...
  • Check the classified section of your newspaper for the picking places nearest you.
  • Strawberries are packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants, both of which fight free radicals. (Free radicals are elements that can damage cells, and are thought to contribute to the formation of many kinds of cancer.) While antioxidants can be obtained from other types of produce, there's evidence that strawberries are particularly potent in this department.
  • Strawberries also contain a wide range of nutrients. Vitamin C heads the group, but they're also strong in vitamin K, manganese, folic acid, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, copper, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Best of all, strawberries are available year-round, especially if you fill your freezer now, so they offer an everyday opportunity to add great taste and nutrition a healthy diet.
  • Unlike some fruits, strawberries don't continue to ripen after they're picked; and they're quite perishable. Store them in the refrigerator and do not wash them until you are ready to eat or freeze them. Choose the reddest and ripest because strawberries' antioxidant properties are thought to be what makes them bright red, and the reddest ones will have the best taste and the highest nutrient density.
    April is the time to ...
  • Carry an apron or old shirt in your car or truck for times when you find leaves or pine needles and are in your good clothes.
  • Gather mulch only on your way home. Don't let bags sit in your car in the sun. Sometimes it doesn't matter, but sometimes an odor develops that stays in the car.
    May is the time to ...
  • Weed as needed. Weeds in the garden will take as much as half of the moisture and nutrients away from the plants you want to thrive.
  • Check a book out from the children's department in the library for a quick course on the fascinating facts of beekeeping.
    June is the time to ...
  • Pass on a tip from the Master Gardeners: at my open garden there was a cuban frog blaring away in the carport as he peeked over the top of a post. These are trouble makers who eat all our native frogs and try to take over. An easy and humane way to get rid of them is to take a plastic bag and scope them in, close the bag completely and put it in the freezer. Don't forget to remove it a few days later and put the frog on the compost pile.
    I suspect many of the frog eggs and tadpoles I have been cherishing are also unwanted, but they do help to keep my rainbarrels clean. I was worried about dipping them out with the water, but I won't worry any more.
  • If you are going on vacation, remember to put a wildflower book in the car and carry a notebook so that when you see something wonderful, you can write it down. If anyone knows of a website that tells what wildflowers we could expect in each state at each season, let us know.
    July is the time to ...
  • Plant some food both to save money and gasoline, but also to enjoy the best possible flavor. Since I couldn't find seeds for black-eyed peas anywhere, I bought a bag at the grocery meant for cooking. I wasn't sure if they would sprout, so I planted only two short rows on Wednesday. On Saturday morning, thanks to the rains, they were already sprouting: record time. These will grow fine through our wet summers. We can eat the young beans like green beans or let them mature and shell them out either green or dried. Even if you couldn't eat them, the legume roots add nitrogen to the soil and the plants can be tilled in as green manure or pulled and added to the compost pile.
  • I also planted Seminole or calabaza pumpkins and cucuzzi, eggplants, and peppers to fill in for the summer. You can get seeds of some of these from www.echo.net. I found a calabaza pumpkin for sale at Parksdale and it was delicious. I bake the seeds with butter and salt, also delicious, before I thought to save and share them. Sorry. I'll do better next time. We will also be using Okinawa spinach, Florida spinach, cranberry hibiscus leaves and flowers and Dawn Dewa in salads all summer.
  • Check out any plants with holey leaves. I had a yellow angel trumpet that was glorious with its first flowers a month ago and then suddenly ravaged by slugs that were daring enough to eat by day as well as night. It was just a matter of peeling them off with a stick and squashing them, but they did much damage before I found them. I hate to confront insects. I tend to look away and hope they will go away, but that doesn't always work.
  • Keep pruning to give plants light and air, especially any that are susceptible to fungal diseases. We've had a lot of rain lately.
  • TURN YOUR AUTOMATIC WATERING SYSTEMS TO MANUAL for the rest of the rainy season. Should we have a whole week without rain, you could turn it on for that once, but except for newly set plants and containers, other plants, lawns, budgets, and the planet are better off without excess watering now. And flipping that switch just twice, now and after the rainy season, you can save up to 45% on water use from waste, not from what is needed.
    August is the time to ...
  • Pass on a tip from Gertrude McWilliams of Valrico. "We got rid of squirrels at our bird feeders by mixing safflower seeds in with the regular feed. My niece told me about this, we tried it and it worked! I thought maybe if you sprinkled some safflower seeds around your garden, it might keep them away. I bought the safflower seeds at Walmart."
  • Chris Getz had squirrels digging in his bonsai and orchid plants. They only like the best. Since he started feeding them sunflower seeds, they seem to be leaving the plants alone.
  • Always keep a shiny penny in your pocket. Should you get a bee sting, use it to gently scrape out the stinger so no more venom is squeezed into the wound. Wasp don't leave stingers, but in either case, pressing a copper penny to the sting for about 15 minutes is said to draw out the poison and thus ease the pain.
  • Celebrate the local interest in organic gardening methods. The August Plant Faire in Valrico on Sunday, August 17th was a great success and people came from as far away as Leesburg, Plant City and Pinellas County.
  • I would never qualify as a Certified Organic Gardener, but you don't have to be a purist to improve your gardening and your care of the environment. It is easy to be 90% organic and in the process drop that old feeling that you should be spraying poisons and enjoy the freedom and optimism that common sense gardening brings.
  • Improving the soil and mulching as much as possible make plants so much healthier that the bugs tend to let them alone. Insects are nature's way of getting rid of stressed plants.
    September is the time to ...
  • Keep taking cuttings of almost any plant you want to multiply. They root quickly in our humid summer. If you haven't done this before, read How to Take Cuttings full instructions. Pruning and taking cuttings often go together.
  • Don't worry about throwing away prunings if you really don't want the cuttings or have anyone to give them to. You could go crazy trying to raise all possible plants.
  • Be sure that your rainbarrels are either covered or have feeder goldfish or tadpoles in them to keep down the mosquitoes. Don't leave any other standing water around for the mosquitoes to use for breeding grounds.
    October is the time to ...
  • Plant annual rye grass if you want a green velvet lawn for the winter. Scatter the seed and then water lightly for five days. By then there will green fuzz coming up all over. Then water less frequently but more deeply until it is well established. I plant this every winter in the back yard where it only needs mowing about every month or six weeks until it fades away in the spring. But I'll wait to plant mine until after all the foot traffic is past.
  • Plant culinary herbs now and enjoy flavorful foods all winter long. Some like parsley, sage, and thyme don't do well in the summer but will thrive from now until next summer at least. I've only once had parsley live over summer here. This year a bit of thyme survived, a first for me. Garlic chives will grow summer and winter and are great in many dishes, also in butters for instant flavor on your vegetables.
  • Keep the hoses handy throughout the winter, but especially until the temperatures really cool down. Even now irrigation by hose is easy compared to April and May, and I have to water very little over the lat fall and winter.
    November is the time to ...
  • Thank everyone who came to my open garden and showed so much interest in the various plants. Thanks also to those who brought plants for me or to give away. All of them found a good home. I had a dream that everyone brought me plants and it was quite overwhelming, so don't think I'm dropping hints. Such gifts are never required but always appreciated. We had good weather and a great time. Thanks especially to my children and grands and to Sharon Knarr and Verna Dickey who gave of their time and made it all possible. I couldn't do it without them.
  • Talk about salad greens. One of my recipe books says that the most important thing about making a salad is having the green dry. You can buy a salad spinner, even an electric one that costs $595. But for years I have been washing my greens, wrapping them in a towel closed with a clothes pin, and spinning them for a minute or two on the last cycle of the empty washing machine. It works well. My garden is starting to yield lettuce, spinach, nasturtium leaves and arugula in addition to the Okinawa spinach, dawn dewa, Florida spinach, and red hibiscus leaves that I harvest year round.
    December is the time to ...
  • I always wash oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits before making juice, but the last time I tried dumping them all into the dishwasher and putting it on rinse hold. A few fruits still needed a bit of wiping off of leaves but most of them came out all ready to dry and be juiced. Hot water is said to make them juicier. It saves a bit of time.