Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Plans

For those of you who miss The Gourmet Gardener, let me say I've missed it, too! I took a little time off to get my feet on the ground after obtaining custody of Bradley, my 22 month old nephew. But now, we're back!

Our plans for this spring:
-Speak at an organic gardening workshop in April.
-Complete e-books about french herbs and container gardening.
-Review our favorite gardening books of the year.
-Provide herb, blueberry and strawberry plants for our North Florida neighbors.
-Expand our aquaponics system and begin to grow organic fish commercially.
-Start a heritage, free-range turkey program for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter CSA sales.

It really only takes a beautiful spring day to remind me why I love The Gourmet Gardener! Check back with us often and watch our gardens grow along with our little one!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beans for Hot Weather

Most types of bean grow well in warm weather.  When other vegetables wither on the vine from the heat, bean plants thrive. Beans grow through the spring and summer in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. To improve growth and production during the hottest months, control weeds and water consistently. Plant when soil temperatures are above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant them in full sun and in well-drained, fertile soil. Sow seeds in damp soil and provide 1 to 2 inches of water a week. Water thoroughly when the soil is dry 2 inches below the surface.
Lima Beans

Most lima bean cultivars tolerate long, hot summers with ease. The most heat-tolerant bush cultivars include "Fordhook 242" and "Jackson Wonder." "Fordhook 242" produces flat, 4-inch-long green pods on 16-inch-tall bushes, 75 days after planting. "Fordhook 242" beans are easy to shell and are a good choice for canning and freezing. "Jackson Wonder"  produces beans 65 days after planting. It grows best in hot, dry conditions. "Jackson Wonder" produces 3 1/2-inch scarlet bean pods with maroon specks on bushes just 12 to 18 inches tall.
Pole Beans
Heat-tolerant pole bean  cultivars include "Blue Lake" and "Kentucky Wonder." "Blue Lake" produces smooth, 6- to 7-inch, dark green pods on 7-foot vines. The long, straight pods are good for canning. "Blue Lake" produces tender pods when harvested at their peak, 75 days after planting. "Kentucky Wonder"  produces 8- to 9-inch pods on 5- to 7-foot vines. "Kentucky Wonder"  pods are flat, oval and medium-green, borne in clusters.

Yardlong Beans
Yardlong  beans survive extreme humidity and heat. Yardlong pods grow 1 to 1 1/2 feet long on vines 5 to 8 feet tall. Depending on how you plan to prepare yardlong beans, it's about 60 days until harvest. To eat the pods as snap beans, harvest when they are 1 foot long. For shell beans, harvest when the pods have a yellow tint. Pull dry, mature pods at the end of the growing season for dry storage.

Bush Beans
Heat-tolerant bush bean cultivars include "Royal Burgundy" and "Burpee's Stringless" green-pod. "Royal Burgandy" produces 4 inch long purple pods that turn green when cooked. "Royal Burgandy" pods grow on bushes 6 to 12 inches tall about 55 days after planting. "Burpee's Stringless" green-pod produces round, 6 inch long slightly curved pods about 50 days after planting.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Updates to the Dirty Dozen

As climates, pests and plant diseases change, so too the chemicals on our food. Large-scale farmers fight a constant battle to produce blemish-free fruits and vegetables with shelf lives long enough for the transport of food thousands of miles to our grocery stores. It's quite a phenomenal feat really.

The purpose of my book -- now updated with the new name, Organic Container Gardening--Grow Pesticide Free Fruits and Vegetables in Small Spaces -- has never been to bash the farmer.  Their job of feeding millions for a small renumeration is hard enough! But I do want to feed my family fewer chemicals so I take the Environmental Working Group's list of foods that are high in pesticide residues seriously. By growing the fruits and vegetables from the list my family eats most commonly, I can reduce the chemicals in our diet, enjoy more nutritious produce and save a little money at the grocery store.

"FreshLife Organic Garden Mix Sprouting Seeds" (Google Affiliate Ad)

The truth is, no one knows how the chemicals from one fruit or vegetable will interact with those from another food in our bodies. No one really knows if chemicals -- designed to cause nerve or other damage to pests -- will build up in our bodies and cause cancers or other illnesses, though there is some research in children to support this theory.

We can't grow all the foods we eat ourselves, but we can grow those we eat most commonly, particularly those we know are high on the list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables, aka "the dirty dozen". The Dirty Dozen is the 12 Fruits and Vegetables with the highest pesticide residues AFTER they have been "washed and prepared for eating", according the USDA/FDA studies.

Organic Container Gardening details how to grow "the dirty dozen", including the two newest members of this notorious club, Kale and Blueberries. We're pleased the book has been well reviewed and believe it truly has helped home gardeners grow organic produce in containers.

The new dirty dozen list, from most contaminated to least, is as follows:
Sweet Bell Peppers

"2.75 Lbs Organic Traditions Garden Manure 4-2-2" (Google Affiliate Ad) 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I don't usually get involved in politics, but thought this gardener could use a little help from the gardening community. If you click on the link, you'll see a tidy yard with a raised bed garden. After the city of Oak Park, Michigan tore up this lady's front yard to replace a sewer line, she planted a vegetable garden. Because she refuses to remove the garden, she's been charged with a misdemeanor and is now facing jail time. I think we can shame the city into doing the right thing here.  Please re-post!

The following is a repost from

Oak Park, Michigan:
Their front yard was torn up after replacing a sewer line, so instead of replacing the dirt with grass, one Oak Park woman put in a vegetable garden and now the city is seeing green.
The list goes on: fresh basil, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cumbers and more all filling five large planter boxes that fill the Bass family’s front yard.
Julie Bass says, “We thought we’re minding our own business, doing something not ostentatious and certainly not obnoxious or nothing that is a blight on the neighborhood, so we didn’t think people would care very much.”
But some cared very much and called the city. The city then sent out code enforcement.
“They warned us at first that we had to move the vegetables from the front, that no vegetables were allowed in the front yard. We didn’t move them because we didn’t think we were doing anything wrong, even according to city code we didn’t think we were doing anything wrong. So they ticketed us and charged me with a misdemeanor,” Bass said . . .
City code says that all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass or ground cover or shrubbery or other suitable live plant material. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are what Basses see as suitable.
However, Oak Park’s Planning and Technology Director Kevin Rulkowski says the city disagrees. He says, “If you look at the dictionary, suitable means common. You can look all throughout the city and you’ll never find another vegetable garden that consumes the entire front yard.”
Read the rest of the story at:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Watering the Vegetable Garden

How do you water a garden during a drought? We usually have too much rain in the summer so to combat this new challenge for us, we installed drip irrigation, mulched and prayed. The size of our vegetables demonstrate a need for more water so we're putting the drip irrigation on a timer. If you'd like to read more about irrigation options, you might be interested in this article I wrote for ehow: Irrigating the Vegetable Garden.

Drip irrigation always itimidated me before I enrolled in a Master Gardener program. It turns out to be pretty easy! Just buy a kit with all the attachments, hook it to your garden hose and you'll be up and ready in about one hour.

Why use drip irrigation? Drip directs a slow, steady source of water to plant roots at a rate they can absorb with little-to-no run-off or evaporation.

The difference in moisture retention between a mulched container and an unmulched is remarkable. I find straw does a better job of moisture retention than does landscape fabric. A layer of newspaper under straw or landscape fabric helps with weed suppression and moisture retention. At the end of the season, I pull up the landscape fabric to give the soil a chance to regenerate. Mulch need not be removed. It breaks down and improves the soil texture.

Now for the praying part--I think I'm going to invite some Native American friends over for a rain dance. It can't hurt.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Is it too hot to grow spinach now? During the summer months, I usually grow Malabar, a heat-tolerant cousin to spinach, but this year I'm trying heat tolerant Japanese spinach varieties instead.

Komatsuna, sold by Evergreen Seeds
most closely resembles spinach in texture and shape. The flavor of Komatsuna is spicier than traditional spinach.

Okame, sold by Kitazawe Seed Company has spinach-like flavor, but has thicker, serrated leaves. Grow Okame in late spring and early fall. Though it bolts later than traditional spinach, it does bolt quicker than other Japanese spinach varieties.

Samba, sold by Kitazawa Seed Company, is fairly heat tolerant and is resistant to powdery mildew. A bit crunchier than traditional spinach, Samba must be cooked before eating.

In partial shade to full sun, plant the seeds or transplants 12-18 inches apart in rows at least 2 ft. apart. Spinach is a heavy nitrogen feeder and requires a consistent watering schedule. Excessive water encourages powdery mildew, however, so allow the top two inches of soil to dry before watering again. Drip irrigation discourages moisture related disease.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Ever wanted to grow grapes and make your own wine or jelly? It is not as difficult as you might think! You can even grow them in containers. Coming in at #12 on this year's "Dirty Dozen" list, imported grapes -- often all you can purchase at the grocery store -- might give you a little more motivation to try growing grapes.

I first tried growing grapes when I wrote Container Gardening for Health: The 12 Most Important Fruits & Vegetables for Your Organic Garden. I grew Muscadine grapes because they grow easily in north and central Florida. I don't like them for fresh eating, but they are an excellent source of Resveratrol and also make excellent jelly.  Resveratrol is the powerful antioxidant found in the skins of red grapes.

Here's a short excerpt from the book:

Michigan State Food Monitoring Program tested fresh grapes in 1991. Nine different pesticides were found on samples tested. Twenty-three percent had residues of Microbutamil and 23% had residues of Iprodione.

In 1994, the Texas Department of Agriculture conducted pesticide residue testing on grapes at wholesale outlets in Texas. Sixty-one percent of samples tested positive for more than one pesticide residue. Twenty-two pesticides were found in total...

"Muscadine grapes grow throughout the southeast, extending from central and northern Florida along the Gulf of Mexico to Texas and as far north as Missouri. Pest and disease resistant, these vines are almost always grown without chemicals. Though muscadine varieites have rather large seeds, they are prolific producers of sweet delicious fruit...

'Thompson' is suitable for desert climates. In colder climates, consider 'Reliance' or 'Canadice.'

Growing Grapes in Containers:

"Grapes have a tap root and need a very deep container. To have a chance at producing fruit, containers should be at least 15 inches deep.
Excellent drainage is especially important when growing grape vines. Add 1/4 inch of gravel to the bottom of a container with at least three drainage holes...

Site Selection

"As grapes are a vining plant, set up a trellis for them prior to planting. Grape vines are usually trained to travel horizontally so keep this in mind when selecting a location for the plants. Because the plants will quickly grow onto any support they can reach, it is not easy to move the plants to other locations during inclement weather. Select a site where the plants can grow year round. If a fence is not available, attach a trellis to a wall using supports spaced 4 to 6 inches from the wall to allow air circulation...

Optimum Growing Conditions:

Location/Sun Exposure:
Fruit production may be diminished in windy conditions. Select a protected site for growing grape vines. Muscadine varieties produce fruit in full sun to partial shade. Site selection for true grapes depends on the temperature. In hot climates, place grapes in full sun to partial shade. In cooler regions, true grapes require full sun.

Moisture: Water grape vines consistently, but allow the soil to dry between waterings. To avoid excess moisture on the leaves and subsequent fungal diseases, consider installing drip irrigation.

Temperature: Muscadine grape vines - 10 degrees Fahrenheit and warmer. True grapes - variety specific. (chart provided in the book.)

Soil: Grapes prefer well-draining soil in a pH range of 6.0-6.5 .

Fertilization: Grapes generally do not require a lot of fertilization. High levels of nitrogen will cause the plant to grow excessive foliage with little fruit production. A treatment with dilute organic balanced fertilizer is usually sufficient..."

There is much, much more about growing grapes in container in Container Gardening for Health, but I hope this blog gets you thinking about growing grapes.