School has started and Trafalgar Middle School's Builder's Club had decided to put in a garden. Long before school opening, planning has been going on to prepare for this. My daughter is a teacher there and I have a great-grandson going to school there. She let them know I was a Master Gardener, and I have helped in years past with small gardening projects. Al Piotter, another teacher there, who is in charge of the Builder's Club has tapped me to be their University of Florida guru. Al applied for a grant, and he received it. We met with Roy Beckford, Ag Extension Agent for Lee County, to form a plan.
I searched all my IFAS gardening books for plants to grow in South Florida. Al wanted companion plantings, late summer crops, winter crops, plants to keep bugs away and garden layouts. We discussed having Three Sister's plantings, mound planting, raised beds, as well as north to south line planting. He has a plot of 200 feet by 28 feet, and a water source, to use. He contacted a national gardening store for help and donations. They took charge of the irrigation system, along with providing labor to assist. Al had local tree trimming services dumping wood chips; he hauled in top soils, organic soils and set up compost bins. Rachael Singletary is educating teachers and parents on vermiculture (worms and their castings.)
Al and I spent over an hour selecting the right plant varieties for us to grow; then he e-mailed it off to Burpee Seed Company. Somewhere, in the clouds it disappeared. Al called the company, and they decided to send us 500 seed packets for free, their selection. Am excited to see what they send us. We can buy missing seeds we will need later. Al has orders in to the local tomato growers company with Linda Sapp for tomato, eggplant and pepper seeds.
Roy suggested we lay black gardening mesh down first, and build the soil up from there. Build up layers of topsoil, then planting in the organic soil placed on top. This is half of a former soccer field. Full sun. Al and I set up the plan of where seeds and plants go, balancing companion planting and heights of plants, adding stinky French marigolds and borage for protection. Using cement blocks for the raised flower beds, we plan to place herbs in the holes of the blocks, even adding nasturtiums. We will have two 5-foot by 5-foot and 4-foot high mounds of soil for mound plantings.
Teachers at the school have been putting in requests for their favorite plants. We did rule out celery because we need muck land to grow it, and potatoes need their own cycle of planting, but those we will try. Garlic is another difficult plant to grow here.
In researching celery, I did find an interesting article on how to regenerate your store-bought celery. Cut the celery about three inches from your base. Save and store regular stalks, but rinse the base cluster and place in a small container of warm water on or near a sunny window, base down and cut stalks up. Change water every couple of days, and mist into the cut base. Let it set for about a week as outer stalks dry out. Tiny yellow leaves will start appearing from the center, and begin to thicken, growing up and out. When this happens, plant the cluster into a pot of soil, covering all but the freshly sprouted tips. Water generously. After five months, gather stalks that can now be used and lightly bind them together.
Who knows what we may try in the future months. We will have a late summer planting, a fall planting and the early spring planting. We have to take into account that school will be out during the holidays.
The space has been plowed, laid out and we begin our big adventure Saturday. Only doing half the space at a time, 100 feet by 28 feet, leaving the rest of the space for future staggered plantings, we are hauling soil, filling pots for seeds, laying out lines for plantings and have the markers to keep track of what is planted where. I have lemon grass clumps to donate. What a concept, letting these kids see where their food originates, not at the grocery store but through someone's (their own) work and effort.
No matter that this was the week for once in a "blue moon." Yes, Tuesday night brought us the blue moon for the first time in three years. According to the Weather Channel, it is a season when there are four full moons, not the usual three. The third full moon usually signifies the end of a season but a fourth full moon in a season is called a "blue moon." Normally a season has three months, so once every three years we get an extra full moon, be it, blue moon. In days of old, farmers set there planting and harvesting by the full moons, so they took their full moons seriously. After an amateur astrologer in 1946 mistakenly called the second full moon in a calendar month a "blue moon," it was repeated on the air in 1980, causing the phrase to stick. In 2006, they said, "like a genie out of its bottle, the phrase couldn't be forced back into its bottle." The next blue moon happens on May 21, 2016.
It is with a heavy heart, I found out that 92 percent of Extension will be cut. Master Gardener hours will be gone with no way to stay qualified. I will still do things that appeal to me, but only for my own heart and curiosity. Raise the children well, as stewards of the land, and our future will be secured.
Remember to thank a tree for cleaning our air and furnishing us oxygen.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener; Arbor Day chairman for Federated District IX; a hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.