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2009 Seasonal Advice

    January is the time to ...
  • 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.
  • Start the most drastic pruning of the year. There will be columns on pruning various plants coming up and if you have questions, email them to me.
  • It seems the water regulations, which used to let us water by hand any time of day, have changed. Now even hand watering must be done before 8 am and after 6 pm. This is difficult in winter, but I don't want any of us to get heavy fines. I am dipping in the rainbarrels to water container plants.
    February is the time to ...
  • Consider the vines. One gardener I know thinks we shouldn't plant any because they can be so rampant. He has a point. But many of the vines I am constantly pulling I did not plant, and this year there is a new one with little white flowers and pink centers. Many people have asked for advice on controlling them and, since I had no answers beyond constant pulling, I asked Troy Springer whose landscaping company does pest plant management control.
    Here's what he said: If you have a big vine problem, do not worry so much about pulling the vines off of the plants, but go to the source, and cut it. Pull the root out or treat the stem going into the ground with Garlon. If you have time and energy left, then you start pulling the vines off of plants. Manage your time, and concentrate your efforts to the source. Eventually the vines will run out of resources, and the vines not connected to the ground will die off, and will be much easier to remove, or will eventually fall off on there own. Successful gardening is all about using your time wisely.
  • Work on the cleaning up from frost damage and do regular spring pruning. I find that the dead branches and stick break away easily. If they resist, it is likely there is still life there. Many things are coming back either from the stems or the roots, but even is something you have is not, if you really want it, wait and see. If not pull or prune.
  • This time of year is always a good time to rethink your plants and the space they are taking. Do you really want it all that much. If not, make room for something you'll like better.
  • My silver shrimp plants were nipped back, in most cases to ground level. They are coming back vigorously, but I am still digging some out. I find that a few swift blows with the spade will break away the dead stems much more quickly than cutting them one by one.
    March is the time to ...
  • Remember another concept that helps in a vegetable garden as well as on a farm is crop rotation. Different plants take different nutrients out of the soil and put different ones back. So it makes sense to plant heavy feeders like the cabbage family where legumes like peas and beans enriched the soil last year. Also, by moving things about, pests and disease are less likely. Old Fungus wake up all hungry for tomatoes, the only thing he likes, being the kind of fungus he is. By golly, those tomatoes were right here last year, but he could die of starvation before getting across the garden to where the tomatoes are thriving this year.
  • Be sure to plant varieties of vegetables that do well in Florida. Stop at the Extension Office in Seffner and ask for their Planting Guide for Vegetable Gardens. But add one more to their recommendations: Roma beans are our favorites because they taste so good and fill the kettle quicker with less shelling and they do very well here.
  • Prune like crazy. So far I have done the roses, regular hibiscus (first cutting), plumbago and duranta for shape and size and silver shrimp, Salvia forsythia, lion's ear, candy corn, and bush sunflower drastically to remove dead growth. I cut the cassia by the front door way back and pruned the poor frilly hibiscus it was covering and cut some dead growth from the blue gingers and one sad croton.
  • My narrow leaved Mammey croton died back badly in the freeze but is coming back from the roots. The wide leaved Petra croton had hardly any damage at all, even in more exposed places, so it is definitely much more cold hardy.
    April is the time to ...
  • Pick strawberries at the U-Pick farms in Dover, Plant City, Ruskin, Wimauma. Check the classified ads in the paper to see what is closest to you. Check www.berrybayfarms.com for complete instructions on how to pick and use your berries. I've been twice already. Remember it takes about twice as long to prepare the fruit after you pick it, so don't over pick at one time. Strawberries freeze well with just washing and topping. I make the jelly when all the picking is over, because the sooner you get to the fields the better. Weather can close them down at any time.
  • If you have rainbarrels without tops that keep out the light, get feeder gold fish and put three to four in each barrel. These cost only 15 cents a piece, are easy to see if you are dipping out water. They will not float over to top if we should ever get that much rain, and they are very good at eating all those mosquito larvae before they hatch. Mine seldom get fish food except when the grandchildren come. Some may die off over time and I feel bad when they do, but sometimes I go a year without having to get more. In one barrel they have grown at least 50 times larger than when I bought them.
  • Check the Southwest Florida Water Management District for complete water restrictions now being enforced.
    May is the time to ...
  • Thank Gordon Pitcher who sent this tip for taking the tangle out of that long electric cord to my blower and chainsaw. It came from his friend Al Ayers (now deceased, God rest his soul) of Tampa.. Start with a five gallon bucket, even a paint bucket will do. Make a hole in the bottom edge or center through which to pass the plug of the extension cord. Plug the cord into the wall socket. Then place a rock, brick, or other heavy object in the bucket on top of the cord to retain the distance to the wall outlet. With cord stung-out as it would be after using, place cord in bucket as fast as your hands can go. Cord will never tangle and will be neatly stored until needed.
  • Be thankful for the rain that we got and pray for more. But be ready for two of our driest months with the days getting hotter and longer all the time. Don't panic. Many plants like this. And don't water what is thriving without it.
  • Clean up fallen fruit where you can. Compost it or bury it in the worm box or elsewhere or at least cover it with mulch. The fruit flies have been so terrible I'm almost glad the loquat tree is finished fruiting, but the fruits were worth it.
  • Fertilize after a rain or watering as needed. Many plants, especially trees and shrubs need feeding only once or twice a year. Vegetables sometimes need it every three weeks.
    June is the time to ...
  • Take note of plants that are too demanding and take them out. Son Mike planted sweet corn but saw it wasn't thriving, took it out quickly, and replaced it with green beans. He measures his garden but amount of production and considers the Roma beans and potatoes his best bets.
  • Many people are replacing some of their ornamentals with edibles. For summer you can plant okra, eggplant, southern peas-zipper kinds shell the easiest, sweet potatoes, Malabar spinach, and certain squashes such as cucuzzi and Seminole pumpkins. Florida spinach, Jewels of Opar, dawn dewa, and cranberry hibiscus leaves will add color, taste, and nutrition and health protection to salads year round.
  • There are many edible flowers that you can also add to your salads or use as garnish. If you have nasturtiums, add leaves and flowers. They are antiviral and will help protect you against any flu. But don't buy nasturtiums now because it will soon be too hot for them. I've already taken some of mine out.
    July is the time to ...
  • Challenge an article that appeared recently in the St. Pete Times with the title: Fruit Grower? You're a Rat Rancher. I beg to differ. We have a yard full of fruit and have hardly ever seen a rat. Most of our years here we have had an outdoor cat who takes care of things like that, and after our last cat died, we have fed whatever cats come around who take up the burden. We enjoy having a cat in any case. Every garden should have one. I won't say we don't ever have any rats that come in the night, but squirrels also eat citrus.

    The article says there are many things you can do to deter rats. One is to not make your yard a jungle paradise. I am guilty and still don't have rat problems. I am also guilty of feeding birds, cats, and probably raccoons outside. They have to eat, too.

    We have sealed all the holes and cracks in the walls, especially around pipes and wires. The air conditioner man did find a long dead rat among the rafters a time or two. But we have never had that dead rat smell we sometimes had in our farmhouses up north.

    It is a good idea to pick up fallen fruit to prevent disease, but I don't do it on a daily basis. We don't put the trash out until the morning of collection, but it doesn't contain much garbage. All of that goes onto the compost pile or into the worm bins.

    Don't let the threat of rats keep you from enjoying fruit trees and fresh fruit from your yard. That is one of the great blessings of Florida living. Rats may be a problem in some cases, but certainly not as a rule.
    August is the time to ...
  • Teach children about life cycles, seasons, good and bad insects and wildlife. Most insects are beneficial. Pick harmful insects from the plants and study them. It gets plenty exciting searching for a hornworm on the tomatoes.