Hello!  Now that the holidays are firmly behind us and life is becoming somewhat normal once again I figured I needed to touch base here and let you know what’s going on at the Altered Sanctuary.  The quick update:  garden is doing great, chickens are doing great, everyone enjoyed their homemade gifts at Christmas, and we survived the recent bad storms.  Honestly – that wasn’t very satisfying, was it?  There’s a lot to cover on each of those topics so, for now, I’ll tell you all about my adventures in organic gardening.  Here’s the nitty gritty, down-n-dirty, delicious details!

The garden has come along very nicely.  I had the pleasure of taking a class with a Master Gardener in Leigh Acres in December and I truly learned a lot from her.  I’ve been gardening my whole life but it’s only recently that I’ve taken measures to install a bonafide raised garden bed in my back yard.  (Remember – it’s all part of my ‘Grand Master Plan’…)  Of course I amended the soil and of course I conscientiously planted plants that benefited each other near each other (like the three sisters – aka corn, beans or peas, and squash) and avoided planting negative combinations for greater success.  I have learned some valuable lessons along the way and I thought I would share some of them with you.

Lesson #1:  Southwest Florida has its challenges and I had no idea that melons, cucumbers, and zucchinis could be affected so greatly by fog!  Fog?  Yes, fog.  It seems that fog not only puts moisture on the leaves of the plants causing them harm but fog can also pick up disease and transport it directly to your garden, too.  Who knew??  Coastal fog is a plant killer indeed!

Lesson #2:  Old seeds will not germinate.  Period.  Over the years I’ve collected or been gifted packets of seeds for my future gardens.  Some of these unopened seed packages were almost 20 years old.  I planted… and watered… and waited… and nothing happened.  The seeds were too old to be viable.  (Where is Marisa Tomei when you need her?)  Again, who knew?

Lesson #3:  Wasps can kill corn plants.  Yep!  Truth be told these aren’t really wasps but the adult flycorn silk fly looks a lot like a wasp and they stunt and/or kill corn plants here in southwest Florida nearly every time.  Since this is a chemical-free organic garden I don’t use any pesticides so this corn silk fly killed both attempted plantings of corn.  Corn is officially on my “don’t plant” list for the future.

Lesson #4:  Soil in southwest Florida isn’t soil at all.  Florida has sand…. lots of sand.  Sand doesn’t have nutrients or the ability to hold water – both of which plants desperately need.  There are several different schools of thought concerning soil and I was fortunate enough to take a class about soil at the MW Horticultural Recycling Facility in south Ft. Myers and again, I learned a lot.  I have composted for years and years and with the two bursts of bad weather here just last weekend (gale force winds and tornadoes), the amount of yard debris was perfect for starting a huge compost bin in the backyard.  After we added all of the dead palm fronds and branches and leaves and everything else, we also cleaned out the chicken coop and added all of the soiled wood shavings to the new compost bin.  Next I’ll add the can of compost that’s been stewin’ and brewin’ now for a while and we’ll get this whole new thing cookin’ right away.  Once I build my second raised bed garden, the plants will love this compost! 

Lesson #5:  While hiking in local wooded areas that have not been disturbed (meaning this is relatively untouched, uncompromised soil), take some of the soil back to your home gardens and potted plants to “inoculate” them with the healthy microbiomes, microorganisms, and nutrients found in this rich, healthy soil.  The “doctors of dirt” at the soil class really were excited as to how beneficial this could be for the home gardener.  This will be very easy to do!

Temperatures here have been almost too hot for too long for the garden to do uber-fantastic.  Only since the beginning of the year have we had some relief from the heat and now the main Second season purple basilgarden and the herb garden are both really taking off great guns.  The Moringa tree has taken off and so has the jack fruit tree (well over 15′ tall now!), papaya tree (with many growing fruits), banana trees, avocado trees, and the Buddha’s Hand tree.  I’ve had several radishes and carrots to enjoy and the burgundy colored green beans are wonderful!  Sweet potatoes have been wonderfully plentiful.  My tomato plants are forming tons of flowers as I write this.  Parsnips, beets, kale, and Swiss chard are all doing great and all the lettuce is coming along nicely.  Kohlrabi and cauliflower are growing steadily while my beautiful sunflowers topped out at 5′ tall before the winds this past weekend whipped them to death.  I’ll salvage the sunflower heads in hopes of seeds for us or the chickens to eat.

Speaking of chickens, all six hens are now laying regularly.  We had one “late bloomer” but she’s finally in full production along with the others.  Those girls are certainly entertaining!  To add some healthy good-stuffs to their diet we started our own super mealworm farm in our garage.  It’s an easy thing to do – basically let nature do its thing – and the result is plenty of nutritious super worms for the chickens to eat.  The love them and it’s hysterical to watch them fight over the worms and play ‘keep away’ with each other. 

                Diggin' sweet potatoes    Home grown sweet potatoes

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