Fall Gardening Workshop

On Thursday I attended a Fall Gardening Workshop offered by the Duval County Extension Office and hosted by the Mandarin Garden Club.  Although I knew the general whereabouts of the road the Garden Club was on, I checked Mapquest to determine if was a left or right turn when I got to the road. Mapquest showed it as being set back in the woods off the main drag so I left Poppie an email where I was going in case I turned up missing. You never know about these things when you lead an “interesting life.”

The workshop featured three speakers on Growing Wildflowers, Dispelling Misperceptions About Trees, and Fall Gardening. In the Wildflower section, we were given a freebie handout – all in color and poster sized – The Wildflowers of Florida. I must confess to wishing I could have gotten a few of those for my Florida and Georgia readers. It’s put out by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services so maybe ya’ll can request one from the Commissioner, Charles H. Bronson. We also got a little packet of ‘Coreopsis lanceolata’. I’m always excited when I get wonderful freebies from these Extension Agent classes because I always seem to forget that they often do this. You know my memory is not worth squat.

After the workshop, the Mandarin Garden Club invited us to tour their gardens and pick out a free plant to take home.  I was beside myself when I found a Rudbeckia Longifolia (S.E. native) which had a totally different leaf structure than the annual rudbeckia seeds I have on hand. One of the Garden Club members told me it would act more like a perennial. Hotdiggity!

These Extension Office classes are always worth attending. I spent three hours in classes, was offered fruit, crackers and cookies for snacks, a garden tour (including a spectacular butterfly garden), a wildflower poster, seeds and a plant for $5.00. Can’t beat it.

For you locals, the Mandarin Garden Club has some upcoming events that might interest you:

  • October 6  — Trash/Treasure sale — 8 am – 2 pm
  • November 10 – Craft Fair — 9 am – 4 pm
  • March 2 — $1.00 Clothing Sale — 9 am – 2 pm
  • April 27 – Plant sale — 8 am – 2 pm

Here are some of the photos I snapped at the Mandarin Garden Club’s lovely gardens:

Birdhouse made out of table leg
Flower bed in front of Mandarin Garden Clubhouse Shed
Under the tree: Dianella tasmanica variegata
a/k/a Variegated Flax Lily
aechmea gamosepala in landscape
aechmea gamosepala close-up
billbergia pyramidalis
Japanese Tongue or Felt Fern
Banana bloom
Candle Bush or senna alata or cassia alata
Pagoda Flower
Red pentas with statue
Pentas in the Butterfly Garden
King’s Mantle
Rudbeckia longi folia (my freebie plant)
Spike Moss
Yard Art made from plates


Lee McDonald's terrariums

The Duval County Extension Agent put on another fabulous event Saturday, February 25th from 9:00 until 2:30. It was called A Day of Gardening and I’ve got to give their secretary, Becky Davidson, some major kudos for organizing our registration packets, by name, with the Agenda glued to the front of the 9×12 envelope and all of our color-coded handouts inside. That must have been some job preparing 300 of those.

Not always being of sound mind, I referred to that Agenda throughout the day to help me figure out where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there. In between lectures, I would visit the vendors who were arranged around the perimeter of the auditorium.

Terry DelValle gave a short, informative lecture on Attracting Beneficial Insects which prompted me to buy the University of Florida’s bug book for vegetable gardeners. It was a tad pricey at $12 BUT it was bound with two one-inch rings allowing it to lie flat when open. The color photos were on heavy, coated card stock a mere 3 inch by 4 inch which meant you could haul the book out to the garden and compare the photo to the bug on your tomato bush and then tuck the book in your garden apron or jeans pocket.  Any garden book identifying bugs or wild mushrooms should be done this way.

Victoria Freeman was up next to tell us a thing or two about Permaculture. A former school teacher now running a bed and breakfast on the St. Johns River, she often treated us like third graders by making us put our heads on the table and holding our fingers up to vote. Anyone not playing along was admonished, “Heads down” and she would not proceed until all heads were down. She was absolutely hilarious and the star of the show.  She had a lot of material that she had to run through far too quickly for my pea-sized brain to comprehend but I did make note of a few frugal tips she had because, as you know, I am, for the most part, dropping out of the consumer culture because of strong feelings that corporate lack of loyalty towards American workers should not be rewarded. Frugal Tip No. 1 – you can make a solar collector from one of those silver sun visors for car windshields. Frugal Tip No. 2 – you can start a “pocket garden” in one of those cloth grocery bags you get at the grocery store for 99 cents.

Our first Breakout Session started at 11:00. When pre-registering, we chose between Organic Vegetable Gardening, Water Conservation and Container Gardening.

Lunch was provided – a sandwich, bag of chips and cookie – but forty-five minutes was not near enough time to get 300 people through one food line with enough time to eat considering their habit of staying on schedule.

The second Breakout Session started at 12:30 with Tomato Varieties and Growing Tips, Caring for Palms and Terrariums on the menu. I chose Terrariums with Lee McDonald, a Master Gardener, mostly because I didn’t know anything about it and it might come in handy to know a thing or two if my succulent seeds make it past the two-leaf stage. He taped gold coins to the floor under some of the chairs which the chair holder exchanged for a bag of ultra-special terrarium dirt. He swore up and down that two of the coins were not redeemed which had a half dozen of us scurrying around the room tipping chairs because, after all, free dirt is free dirt to a gardener.

The last lecture was on Exceptional Plants for Northeast Florida by Chuck Hubbuch. When his lecture was over I bolted for the door. I realize they wanted to keep an auditorium of 300 people comfortable but I was frozen to the core. I missed a rare February day of sun by going to this shindig and luckily my car had been roasting in the sun. It was probably 85 degrees inside the car but it felt really, really good after a day of polar bear treatment. According to the thermometer readout on my dash, the outside temperature was 61 degrees. Now I ask you, WHY would they blow arctic air over us all day long when the outside temperature had risen to a meager 61 degrees by 2:30 in the afternoon? That is the third time I’ve been cold in that auditorium, the last two times I was miserably cold, and they’ve just about torn it with me. Yes, their classes are excellent. Yes, their classes are good value for the money spent but I don’t like coming out with my internal organs riddled with icicles. I’ve already registered for their chicken thing this Tuesday night but I’m not certain I will go.

Eating and Growing Seasonable

Linda Cunningham in foreground with herb butter samples

I spent Saturday morning in another Extension Agent class on Eating and Growing Seasonable. First part was growing warm season vegetables. You never have to take a lot of notes because they give you a handout with a miniature version of the slides they use in the class. Just add a few of your own notes in the margins and you are all set.

In the second half, we had demonstrations on how to prepare several recipes which we sampled. Two kinds of soup, a winter fruit trifle with angel food cake, baked herb donuts (almost too dry to choke down) and a fancy butter with herbs.

Our local herb expert, Linda Cunningham, gave several of the food demonstrations and they were generally advocating the use of herbs as an alternative seasoning. They stressed that we should consume less than 2300 mg of sodium per day. If you are over 51, African American or have heart disease, your salt should be limited to 1500 mg (1 teaspoon) and if you are eating out a lot, you’ve already lost the war on salt. I haven’t gotten the hang of using fresh herbs yet but I started using a lot more dried herbs a couple years ago so I can attest to the great flavor.

Of great interest to me was learning that the food pyramid is gone. It has been replaced by a plate with fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains and dairy. The vegetables and grains were the largest portions on the plate. We were also given Tip Sheets No. 10 and No. 14 from www.ChooseMyPlate.gov to help us cut back on salt and sodium as well as liven up our meals with fruits and veggies.

Start Veggie Seeds Indoors

Students planting their seed trays

On Saturday, I took another one of those wonderful classes from the Duval County Extension Office in preparation for my Spring 2012 veggie garden. You can purchase starter plants from the plant nursery but you will be limited to their selections. To have a wider choice of varieties, you must grow your own starter plants from seed (except for those varieties that must be sown directly in the soil).

After listening to the lecture, we were dispatched to tables where we were each given seed starter trays, several varieties of seeds, plastic plant markers, even a plastic glove for the chicken-livered. Imagine that when it was perfectly clean dirt from a freshly opened bag. Nary a bug in sight.

Our seed starter trays held fifty individual seed cells. Into those we planted three types of eggplant, two types of peppers, and five types of tomato seeds.  For good measure, we were given extra little baggies holding beans, cucumber, and squash seeds.

Frugal Gardening Ideas

PVC Grow Light

Of particular interest to me were several money-saving ideas. We were shown a grow light contraption made from PVC pipe with a fluorescent light fixture dangling from it. Better still, we were given a one-page material list with photo of the PVC pipe contraption so we could build our own. On another table next to the grow light, was a spray bottle filled with liquid fertilizer — the kind of fertilizer I always call “blue water” — and a plastic, liquid dishwashing bottle with single squeeze spout filled with blue water. Again, the obvious is never obvious to me and the likelihood of me ever thinking to store blue water in spray or squeeze bottles would have been slim to none.

Demos were given on how to make individual seed starter pots from newspaper or the center cardboard from paper towel rolls. Their plastic plant markers were commercial but you can make your own tags by cutting up old bleach jugs and using a permanent marker, such as a Sharpie, for labeling.

Don’t Miss Out

These classes are a lot of fun because we always seem to have some sort of make-and-take project after the classroom instruction. Call 904-255-7450 and sign up today for the following two garden classes coming up next month:

On Saturday, February 11, they are offering a food demo and sampling using seasonal produce and more info on growing warm season vegetables.

On Saturday, February 25 from 9 am to 2:30 pm they are offering A Day of Gardening with lots of speakers and vendors not to mention your choice of three workshops in both the morning and afternoon. The day is so cram packed I can’t figure out when we are supposed to be able to visit the vendors.

Growing Sweet Bulbing Onions

Look at the onions, not the weeds

The year 2011 was my first attempt to grow a fall and winter garden. Having had trouble growing white bulbing onions on more than one occasion, I finally went to the internet to research the subject. Oh my, that was a mistake. I stumbled on a chart of alternative onions at Mother Earth News http://www.motherearthnews.com/Growing-Leeks-Shallots-Scallions.aspx that raised both eyebrows. I had grown the bunching onions, leeks and shallots in their chart but the Egyptian/Walking onions and Potato onions were new to me. I was immediately seized by the Had To Have It Syndrome which you gardeners will most certainly recognize.

I ordered the Egyptian and Potato onions from Ebay and planted them. I also planted a cup of red and white onion sets from the local nursery, some red cipollini onion seeds going by the name Flat of Italy, and some of the shallots I had grown in the spring.  My garden started to look like I had one idea – onions. They were everywhere. Mostly because I planted them all over the garden to make it harder for onion pests to stamp an address on my onions.

Only after all these onions were planted did I happen to take a class on growing onions with Mary Puckett through the Extension Agent Office.

She stressed two things. Do not plant your onions too deep and water consistently. I suspect that I have planted my onions too deep but the idea of scratching the dirt away from so many onions has thus far proved overwhelming.

Ms. Puckett also had a neat tip about watering. If you want to know how much water your garden is getting from an overhead sprinkler, put an empty tuna fish can in the garden. Run the sprinkler for 5 minutes and check the depth of water in the can then calibrate how long you need to run your sprinkler to give the garden a good inch of water. Generally speaking, a gallon of water gives you an inch per square foot.

This was another one of those well-attended, worthwhile garden classes. In addition to the above, we learned about fertilizing, harvesting and curing onions. After completing the classroom portion of our instruction, Mary herded us out back to physically demonstrate how to plant the onions at the proper depth. Most of us toured the demonstration gardens and left with our very own ribbon-tied bouquet of Vidalia onions to plant. Like I needed any more onions in my plot of paradise. Sigh.