By JOYCE COMINGORE
Special to The Breeze
Talk about wet and humid - we have arrived! Mosquito heaven ... hurricane threats ... weeds ... bugs and fungus amongus ... finding time to mow our grass that keeps on growing even though we have no nitrogen/no phosphorous fertilizer laws in effect until the end of September - all beset us now. Compared to many spots in our dried-up nation, though, we are blessed. However, we will probably pay higher prices for our food.
Kicking the Summer Olympics cold turkey has been this week's challenge. So, since I got involved in my arugula article, I bought the "United States of Arugula" book I mentioned - the sun-dried, cold-pressed, dark-roasted, extra virgin story of the American food revolution. I have watched every TV cooking show mentioned.
The author credits Julia Childs, James Beard and Craig Claiborn as the people responsible for generating this phenomenon. Having been in the food business, besides growing it, as a restaurant owner/worker and in the grocery business as a deli-clerk, I related to every page about the growth of our food industry, from the rural American meat and potato diet to our present organic and free-range meats. I have even joined the local "Slow Food" movement, eat fresh, buy local, that challenges the fast foods mentality. Not to say I don't slip and partake in a hurried hungry moment. This movement began in Italy in 1986 as a protest against - you guessed it - the building of a McDonald's in Piazza de Spagna, Rome. Organizers say this was not done to protest against the restaurant chain, but in protest against big international business interests.
Gardeners get involved in gardening for several reasons - a pleasant landscape, food production or both. When I worked in the nursery business, I was challenged by the gentlemen who said, "If I can't eat it, I won't grow it." Then there are the amazing gardeners who grow plants to encourage the honey bees, butterflies and birds. Bees and butterflies pollinate our foods and the birds feast on the pesky insects that damage our plants, as do the lowly mundane toads, a lovely reciprocity deal.
With the promise of food prices going higher, many people would like to be able to grow their own. When I first moved here, I attended a talk given by Gene Joiner, a former horticulture agent on the other coast, who told us, that with our poor soil, "It would be cheaper to buy produce at the grocery store." Well, we'll see now when the higher prices hit the market.
It is now time to start our fall garden, the main vegetable gardens for Southwest Florida. You can grow vegetables in pots, but then I forget to water them consistently, so they dry up. Years ago I tried the green bean basket bit, (everyone got these from the grocery stores until they quit shipping beans that way). Filled them with mulch and feed the plant daily with liquid fertilizer. It worked for those that remembered to do the daily feeding. This is like the hydroponic foam pots full of vermiculite my son grows, stacked on poles and fed by a motorized pump that brings liquid food from a big barrel, in tubes across the top and feeds the top pot that then drips down to the next, and the next, and the next pot, all the way down to the bottom foam ice chest full of vermiculite soil. This is what I call a true trickle-down economy.
If one has the space to put in the old-fashioned garden, with fencing to keep out the rabbits and rooting varmints, you need to solarize the soil now, because August is our hottest month, with clear plastic for 6 weeks in the full sun. This lets the sun in to bake the weed seeds and nematodes that do havoc on our plants. For the IFAS bulletin ENY 062, go to the extension office or on line to edis.ifas.ufl.edu. on how to do this.
Generally, in the first year, a new spot is nematode free, but once attracted, nematodes come and settle in, ready for the second year's crop. In September, you can start the fertilizer and amended soil. Have your rows of food growing in rows going east to west, with the tallest plants in the north row. Vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of sun.
Or, you can tuck them here and there among your landscaping. Just remember, NO pesticides or chemicals in this area of edible plants. Count on birds and toads to eliminate the bugs. Water sprays of soapy water help, too.
Lumpy, bumpy toads are wonderful for eating a great number of insects in one meal. Florida has three true native toads ranging from one to three inches. The oak toad is the one inch toad, the Fowler's toad is only found in the Panhandle and our common toad is the 3-inch lumpy, bumpy southern toad, a delightful handful. At dusk I hear them talking outside my living room sliding glass doors. Beware. We also have an invader toad, the Cane/Marine, or bufo toad, 6 to 9 inches or more in size, but resembles the southern toad in coloring. They eat our native toads, and even more frightening, when touched, licked or eaten by dogs, they are highly toxic. So if it is larger than 3 inches, handle carefully.
During the hot summer day, toads need to be in shade. At night they will eat their heart out on live food, bugs. To encourage them, prepare a quiet, dark and damp spot for them, some stones under a shady bush, with damp leaves underneath, on which they can rest. Or, to get ideas on how to use clay pots for toad houses, go to the Parks and Recreation's gardens at Rutenberg Park on South Pointe Boulevard. Build it - they will come. (They are probably already here.)
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.