Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are You Going to Spring Obsession?

Make your plans to attend the 10th annual Spring Obsession on Saturday, March 10th from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. in Lakeland's Munn Park. Delight in Florida native plants, hard to find exotics, fruit trees, orchids, herbs, garden art, and much more!
Information on Florida-Friendly Landscaping will be available and rain barrels will be for sale!
For more information on the event go to the event's website or read more HERE.
Gardening Presentations
Wakeman Room, on Kentucky Ave., next to Harry's
9:00 a.m. "City of Lakeland Plant Introductions"
10:00 a.m. "Basic Orchid Care"
11:00 a.m. "Growing Veggies in Florida"
12:00 noon "You Can Grow Blueberries"
1:00 p.m. "Spring Spruce Up of the Yard"
2:00 p.m. "City of Lakeland Plant Introductions"

Platform Art: Art in Agriculture

Visit the Master Gardeners at the Art in Agriculture event on April 28th! A new Florida-Friendly garden will be unveiled and information about local agricultural services will be available.
Read more about this event HERE

Friday, February 24, 2012

Extension Spotlight

What to know what's going on at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service?

Check out this month's issue of Extension Spotlight

Creating a Florida-Friendly Landscape

Designing a landscape is a daunting task. You may not be able to figure out where to put that new plant, much less create a new mulched bed or revamp an existing area. There are many tips that can help make this process much easier.

1. Decide why you want to landscape.
Aesthetics, environmental protection, improving resale value, noise reduction, climate control and wildlife habitat are just a few reasons people decide to landscape.

2. Determine how you will use your property.
Determine how much lawn you need for children or pets and how much time you want to spend caring for your plants.

3. Analyze the existing site.
Walk around your property with a clipboard and paper making notes of all the things you see. The factual information about your site is very important in creating your plan.

4. Prepare a land-use plan.
Using a ruler and graph paper you can create a scaled drawing of your property and include all the factual information you obtained from the walk around your yard. You will also want to make notes of your ideas for the new landscape on this paper.

5. Add the landscape plan to the sketch.
Determine what type of plants you want to put in your yard. Sketch them into your plan remembering to keep them away from the house, group them according to water needs and give them plenty of room to grow.

6. Incorporate the irrigation plan.
If you are planning on using an irrigation system of some kind, now is the time to draw a plan or contact an irrigation contractor to do so for you.

7. Select landscape materials.
Considering your maintenance requirements, it is now time to select plant material. Consult gardening books, local nursery professionals and the Extension Service for help.

8. Implement.
Purchase quality plants and make sure that you install them correctly.
9. Maintain.
Proper maintenance including irrigation, fertilization, pruning, mowing, mulching and pest management are crucial to the health of your plants. Make sure that you are environmentally
aware when maintaining your landscape.

10. Enjoy!
The final step takes a long time and a lot of hard work to get to, but if you follow the Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles and attend a landscape design workshop you will have a
low maintenance landscape to enjoy!

For a list of upcoming landscaping workshops go to

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Spring is a good time to clean up, plan and prep your landscape for planting. Even though we escaped a cold winter, many plants were damaged and there is still work to do in the yard to clean up after winter. Where should you start?

1. Prune back all of the freeze damaged plants in your landscape. Don’t dig them all out of the ground, as most of them will come back as the temperatures begin to warm.

2. After the pruning is complete, there will be more visible mulched areas. Take the time to weed and remulch as needed. A clean, mulched landscape is a great way to start fresh!

3. If you want to replace some of your freeze damaged plants, now is the time to start researching what to replace them with. Remember to take the time to make sure you are choosing the Right Plant for the Right Place. Download a copy of The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design to help you make the right choice.

4. This is also a great time of year to make sure your irrigation system is functioning properly. Check your rain shut-off device and make sure it works. They need periodic maintenance and do need to be replaced every few years. Make sure all filters and emitters are cleaned, irrigation heads are not spraying impervious surfaces and that they rise high enough to effectively water the plants.

5. While you are maintaining your irrigation system. Take this time to calibrate your sprinkler system. For each zone, distribute uniform cans (6-8 tuna cans will work perfectly) throughout the zone. Turn on the zone for 15 minutes. Turn off the irrigation and use a ruler to measure how many inches are in each can. Take an average of those measurements to determine how many inches are applied in 15 minutes. Do this for each zone. Then, change your timer so that ½ inch is applied in each zone.

6. Clean out bird feeders and birdbaths. If you haven’t been vigilant about these over the winter, make sure your bird feeders are cleaned out and refilled. Scrub birdbaths and refill them. Never use soap or bleach to clean them.

7. After your yard is ready for spring, you can start planning for new plants and gardens. Plan a spot for wildlife and a spot for vegetables. Add a shade tree. Install a piece of garden art. Add a bench in a shady spot where you can sit and enjoy your yard.

Refer to the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles whenever you work in your yard and
consider attending a free informational workshop to help you make your yard Florida-Friendly!

The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program is a grant-funded program in cooperation with the University of Florida, the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Peace River Basin Boards of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Polk County. The program emphasizes creating and maintaining attractive landscapes to enhance the community and protect our
valuable natural resources.

Be a Friend to Pollinators!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Season of Bounty..Season of Renewal

Do you enjoy growing and canning your own produce? Did you know the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service offers canning and preserving classes? Enjoy this guest post by Carol Leffler, Polk Master Gardener and Florida Master Naturalist


Last year was a very kind year in my gardens. As I look to the New Year, that brings forth an accounting of the successes of the past vegetable gardening season, and plans for the future.
Canning is back, but since the 1970s, I’ve never been far away from it. It is gratifying to produce the food for home use, and most of all, to know something about the source of that food and/or how it was grown.

This year, those of you that were close at hand for fabled stories from my backyard know that I was crowned, unofficially, as The Bean Queen. All told, after two crops of green beans planted, I harvested and pressure-canned 72 pin
ts. I have to admit that I ran out of jars, and out of time to deal with the last four or five pounds, which met their duty in the compost pile. Other things I canned during 2011 included apple pie filling (9 pints), peaches (18 pints) and tomatoes (16 quarts). All of the latter were bulk purchased.
So, what is the exact “plan” for a canning garden? Some folks work strictly from a
calendar of “to do” days for perfect timing for planning their gardens. My planning this fall centered on the times I would be “out of town” for one event or another. Those needs, along with the seed-planting calendar, dictated my work. Luckily, the two goals met in the middle, and everything worked out. This worked so well in that I got not one, but two crops of green beans planted. The really miraculous bit of luck was that every time I planted a crop this fall (and now winter), rain has appeared for a week or so, and (ta-dah!) germination and early growth were guaranteed without my presence! Again, that was just plain luck.

I have never had issues getting green beans to grow, but timing is sometimes an issue. This year my goal was to time the plantings so that I would get a crop big enough for major canning opportunities. It is one thing to plant a dooryard garden for fresh use. It is quite another to achieve the timing necessary for successive crops to be available for preserving the crop. Producing food for yearlong use was my goal in 2011. I took a number of steps to maximize success.

During 2009 and 2010, I worked to incorporate green manures into the garden. This usually took the form of straw, initially added to the garden as row mulch. Anything that accomplishes “double-duty” makes my list. A bale usually suffices, bought from The Hay Exchange in Plant City.
Continued annual additions of peat moss, topsoil, cow manure, and home-mulched materials, which have been a process since 2005.
Completed garden site solarization during the summer of 2011.
Spaced vegetables closely together, which discouraged weed growth and maximized water retention. (This also provides a really neat home for my friendly garden toad!)
Provided limited areas, mulched by straw, as walkways through the garden. This also discouraged weeds and retained moisture.
Used one overhead-watering device, only on an as-needed basis, reaching the entire garden area.
Plantings were 30 days apart. This allowed for each crop to mature so harvesting would be almost continuous for six weeks.

The cultivar used was a standard bush bean variety advertised to perform well under drought stress. It was not the usual seed or brand I had used in the past. While it wasn’t my first choice, I took a chance this year and was richly rewarded. Sometimes, you just get lucky! I was soooo happy with the quality of the produce, that I decided that rather than use the fourth picking of the first crop for canning, I would let the first crop go to seed.

This yielded an enormous amount of harvested seed to store for use in 2012—an entire quart jar of bean seed. Wow.

Usually, one picking of the plants yielded about eleven pounds of green beans. Roughly speaking, that’s about one plastic grocery bag full. That yielded about 16 pints of processed product. In order to snap that many beans, I only needed about one sci-fi Saturday afternoon movie. How relaxing! I usually canned the next day. No sense in getting obsessive about it; they keep a night in the fridge!

The first job of the new day was to locate and stack the canning jars into the dishwasher. While they are washed and sanitized (which does not substitute for sterilizing), I assemble the rest of the materials I need—lids, rings, salt, canner, jar lifter, pressure cock, and, oh yes…counter space!

Jars are sterilized in a boiling water bath; then beans are blanched in boiling water (I use the same water). Jars are then filled with beans, salted (not mandatory), fresh boiling water added, air removed, rims wiped, and then lids and rings added. These steps are pretty quick in succession. Then the canner is loaded and…it’s TV or reading time again until the processing time elapses.

After removing the jars from the pressure canner, it’s a “hop-skip-and-a-jump” to hearing that special little “ping” as each jar seals. If you don’t hear it, then that jar can be reprocessed with the next load, or refrigerated and eaten in the next few days. I prefer to re-process, because—that was the goal in the first place. It all depends on if the next canner load is already full.

I offer two comments if you are a novice. First, I cannot tell you the times that I run into someone that tells me that they water bath green beans and believe that it is an safe acceptable method. Preserving food—particularly canning, because you cannot see the pathogens that may result—is a process that should be strictly applied.

Second, a note about glass top stoves—they are not recommended for canning. Because of extreme concentration of heat during canning, cracking has been known to occur. If you read the small print on your manufacturer’s warranty, you will probably find an exclusion clause. I use a JennAire™ with standard coil heating elements for canning.
As for 2012, there’s all that seed. And those seventy-two pints will cover a lot of great meals. That’s just a little bit more than once a week or, gee, I could even have company!!

Yes, I had a lucky year! Hoping your gardening is full of luck in 2012!
Fun Facts: Historically, wars (hungry soldiers) played a major role in the development of food preservation. The French invented canning during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. Unfortunately for the soldiers, the can opener was not invented for another 30 years! Canning was introduced in the U.S. as a way to preserve food around 1830, although Mason jars were not introduced until 1858.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Polk County Master Gardeners Teach Students How to Grow Their Own Food

Principal Brian Kier and teachers Tracy Miller, Patti Frier and Sarah Smokay of the Davenport School of the Arts working along side their Polk County Master Gardener Advisor Mike Howell have finally realized their dream of adding agriculture to school supported activities.

Seven months of planning, meetings and much back breaking labor in heat and cold have resulted in 8 raised beds for growing vegetables, 5 raised beds for growing blueberry plants, a Hydro Stacker system for growing food hydroponically as well as a large butterfly garden. A large plot has also been tilled for the growing of melons, pumpkins and potatoes, among other crops. Expansion into a small citrus grove is also planned. Irrigation for the entire garden is provided through a micro-jet water conservation system.

Over 200 children of the current student body has been impacted by this initial phase. The school staff expects this number to increase as knowledge of the garden spreads through the school and student families.

The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida. The program relies on dedicated volunteers who have an interest in gardening and in giving back to their communities.

Think you might be interested in becoming a Master Gardener? Read more about the history of the program and how to become a Master Gardener.

Contributed by Mike Howell