I was privileged to be in the crowd at Trafalgar Middle School Tuesday afternoon to attend the proclamation ward by the city of Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki, as the city donated two trees, a mango and a Meyer lemon, to our garden for an early National Arbor Day (usually on the last Friday in April). She declared last Tuesday as Cape Coral's Arbor Day and so it is. It was also Earth Day and this fit that bill.
LCEC donated an Orlando tangelo tree as well. We were so pleased and excited to receive three new fruit trees. We have fruit trees surrounding the perimeter of the 20,000-square-foot garden.
Stephen Pohlman, city of Cape Cora Parks and Recreation director, made the opening remarks, announcing that the Cape Coral community was a Tree City U.S.A. for the 22nd year. The mayor spoke, and then the Principal Dr. Michael Galbreath gave the Trafalgar Middle School garden's history. It was FCAT day and the young president of the Garden Club was engaged in taking her FCAT, so a young man we call C.J. (he rides his bike every Saturday morning to work the garden), accepted for the students and told of how much fun he had doing the gardening.
Diana Gilman from LCEC recognized the students for their recent donations of nearly 2 tons of fresh food to the soup kitchens, and told how proud LCEC is to partner with the city and school, so they were donating a third tree. Everyone was given a plastic bag and asked to go pick the overwhelming cherry tomatoes after the photos were taken. No one went home empty handed. We were pleased to see two City Council members, Lenny Nesta and Rana Erbrick, present and we were able to explain the workings of the garden to them.
The cherry tomato vines have been loaded, and the Taste of the Garden (March 29) attendees also got to pick plenty. We have been digging up the seedlings from the fallen fruits, and replanting them. They are a good summer crop as well.
We have a brazen rabbit that lives within a hundred feet of the garden who dearly loves our beans. He goes under the pre-fab classroom and lives there, but he doesn't run from us. Just challenges us. No more bean plantings.
That is what we are about right now, planting a summer crop. Some students want to come off and on all summer long, but youthful intentions sometimes go elsewhere. The school teacher in charge, Al Piotter, only has a month left of school days. He really needs a vacation.
The debate is what green crop to plant, pigeon peas or perennial peanut ground cover. We could leave it fallow, since we intend to put all new fresh compost soil next year. Green cover crops will not only refertilize the existing soil, but keep out the weeds that will overtake a fallow garden. We found that regular peanuts do not do well here, so much for George Washington Carver's discoveries.
ECHO has a list of summer crops it sends all over the world. They have several that need to have their leaves cooked for 5 minutes or more in order to flush them, getting rid of the cyanide in them, then they are edible. Those we don't need around the students, like cassava (tapioca) and chaya.
Garlic chives make great grass-like borders through all seasons. The all-purpose mooring tree, pigeon peas, okra, eggplants, hot peppers and sweet potatoes. Tropical pumpkins (calabaza and chayote squash). bunching onions, will work. ECHO has many exotic vegetables, but these are ones we know we can eat.
There is the cranberry-colored false roselle, the edible "Florida cranberry" roselle, and the water chestnuts that they grow in plastic swimming pools.
The drought season has been very mild this year. We are almost out of our dry times. By mid-May, we should be starting the rainy season. Some flowers recommended by the University of Florida to grow in May are - gaillardia, coleus, salvia, torenia, wax begonias and those extremely hot, tiny red pepper bushes. Stephen Brown recommends also, balsam, nasturtiums and zinnias. Summer herbs include basil, chives, mints, thyme, Mexican tarragon (looks like narrow marigold blooms), ginger, cumin, summer savory and rosemary. For summer vegetables try okra, southern peas and sweet potatoes, and always, cherry tomatoes.
The merry, merry month of May's last week will bring the rains and the onslaught of bugs, viruses and fungus. Use caution in spraying because there are good bugs out there; besides that, bugs build up and intolerance to pesticides. Indescriminate use tends to overthrow the good-bug/ bad-bug balance in your garden. Don't forget, birds, lizards, frogs and toads, bees and butterflies (and their caterpillars) are your friends.
With rain comes puddles and standing water, breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Eliminate those. Hopefully the airplanes will be spraying.
Now is the time for clipping limbs and deadwood that might create a hazard when the hurricanes arrive in June. Remember, severe pruning does more harm than good. Consult an arborist or the Lee County Extension office. Fertilize them to get them back to bushy and dense. Mulch, mulch, mulch (keeps out weeds as well as holding moisture in the plants root system). Reliable rains start in June, be sure to fertilize everything, lawns and landscaping, because of the nitrogen and phosphorus ban that starts in June and lasts until the end of September. Build up your feeding in order to cover these summer months.
May is the best time to do cuttings, grafting and air layering. Multiply your plants.
Would that every day could be an Earth Day awareness.
Thank a tree for you clean oxygen to breathe.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.