How to Hand-Pollinate Eggplants

Sometime when you live in the suburbs it can be hard to keep pollinators in your garden. I personally buy as many bee and butterfly loving flowers as I can in order to keep them coming! But sometimes, you need to take matters into your own hands. I find this especially true with eggplants. Every year my eggplants blossom the most beautiful lavender flowers. There are so many flowers I can barely count them all. While I can appreciate a beautiful flower, it is eggplants that I want!
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If you are seeing a lot of pretty flowers but no eggplants the problem is most likely due to lack of pollination. There are not enough bees, humming birds or butterfly’s that frequent your property enough for pollination. For eggplants, even wind can move pollen to the receiving pistols which causes pollination. If this lack of polination is happening to you there is another way to get your eggplants to start producing yummy eggplants for your family! Self or hand pollination is a tool that a lot of home gardeners use when they run into this issue.

Most plants produce both male and female flowers. In this case the pollen producing male flowers need to somehow get their pollen to the pollen receptors on the female flower. Eggplant flowers are considered to be “perfect”, meaning each flower is both male and female. This makes hand pollinating them so easy!
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You can use a q-tip, small paint brush or even your finger to move the pollen around in each flower. Some home gardeners simplify it even further and just give each flower a soft flick and let the wind do the work.
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Literally within days I started seeing tons of baby eggplants coming in! All of the elements were there, they just needed a little extra push! Now we are harvesting a few eggplants every few days and I could not be more thankful!
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Happy Gardening!

Much Love!

Eva

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Tomatoes: The difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate

Tomatoes. The holy grail of gardening. When most people make the decision to start their home garden tomatoes are always at the top of the list of vegetables they they want to plant. (yes I know they are technically a fruit 😛 )

When I first started out I was overwhelmed by the amount of options when it comes to tomatoes. Look through any seeds catalog or online seed company and there will be pages and pages of different types of tomatoes seeds to choose from. I had no idea there were so many different types of tomatoes!
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What most people do not know is that there is a way to narrow down your for the search the perfect tomato to plant. Tomatoes are divided into two categories: Determinate and Indeterminate. Both types of tomatoes will give you beautiful delicious fruit and there is not much difference in how you would care for them. The difference between determinate and indeterminate comes in how they grow and how they produce fruit.

Simply put a determinate tomato plant bares all of their fruit at one time and an indeterminate bares fruits over the course of the entire season. In order for you to decide which type of tomato plant is best for you, we will need to dig into their differences a bit further.
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In the case of determinate tomatoes you will have a shorter, bush-like tomato plant that does does not require much pruning. Determinate tomato plants normally do not grow more than 3-4 ft tall. Because of this, they will not require much staking either. Since you will get most of your fruit at the same time, determinate tomatoes are best for people who are hoping for large crop harvests at a certain time of the season. Most large scale tomato farms use determinate plants in order to schedule crop harvest in the small 2-3 week window when all of the fruit on the plants are ripe. Once most of the fruit on each plant is ripe, new flowers will very seldom produce fruit.

Indeterminate on the other hand are very different. These types of tomato plants produce fruit throughout the season. This means that rather than getting all of your tomatoes in a 2-3 week period, each tomato works individually to ripen on its own. Some indeterminate tomato plants can grow more than 8 ft tall! Since this type of tomato plant grows tall vines rather than short bushes like determinate; strong steaks, tall tomato cages and / or a trellis for the vines to climb will be essential. Indeterminate tomato plants will also require a bit more pruning than the determinate variety. It will be important to prune off dead or diseased leaves and suckers that way the plant can focus on producing more fruit rather than foliage. This type of tomato plant is ideal for home gardeners who want to enjoy tomatoes all season long because you could be harvesting several tomatoes each week rather than having the whole mother-load all at once.

Tomatoes are the go-to plant to grow for most home gardeners. I do not think I have ever met anyone who doesn’t like them, even if it is just to make pasta sauce! Understanding the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants is the first step in choosing the perfect variety for your home garden!

Until next time, good luck in the garden this season!

Much Love,

Eva

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Collard Greens: Plant once and get greens all season!

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Looking for an easy starter plant to test out your green thumb? How about a plant that keeps on giving for months? Collard greens are not only easy to grow, if the leaves are cut correctly, you will continue to harvest greens from the same plant for months.

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Collards are traditionally a cold-hardy plant but there are some varieties, such as the Georgia Collard, that do well for most of the year even in warmer climates. While they can be grown almost any time of the year, it is said that the colder temperatures give the collards a sweeter flavor.
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Plant the seeds about a 1/2 inch deep and about 3 inches apart. As plants grow, thin out to about 12 inches in order to give the collards plenty of room to grow their beautiful wide leaves. When collards are ready to harvest, you do not have to cut the whole plant down to harvest the leaves. Once the leaves are at least 10 inches long you can harvest individual leaves. Start at the bottom of the plant and work your way up until you have harvested the desired amount. The collard plant will continue to grow leaves long after you have started harvesting and will look like a mini tree by the end of the season.

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Here in central Florida, our Georgia Collards grow best during late fall and all through winter. They will continue growing through the spring but tend to struggle a bit during the hottest months of the summer (June-September).

I would love to hear some of your recipes with Collard Greens! Please comment below with one of your favorites!

Until next time!

Eva

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Ripen Tomatoes Indoors

Well the weather man finally called for winter in Central Florida. While many parts of the country are feeling the wrath of a blizzard, here in Florida we are all up in arms because we actually had to wear socks this weekend. Oh the horror! 😀
After I grew my first home grown tomato I knew there was no going back to grocery store tomatoes, if I could help it. There is nothing better than a fresh homegrown, vine-ripened tomato. The only problem is that tomatoes really do not like it when the weather is too cold. Tomatoes grow best between 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit and the threat of frost can kill the entire plant. No matter where you are growing tomatoes in the country, when the forecast calls for the first frost of the season, it is time to bring your tomatoes indoors. So this weekend that is exactly what I did.
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What many new gardeners don’t know is that tomatoes will ripen indoors even if you pick them very green. There are a few ways to do it. Some gardeners don’t pick the tomatoes off the vine but pull the entire plant and hang the whole plant upside down in a location that will not reach frost temperatures. Others individually wrap each tomato in newspaper on a flat surface, making sure to space them a few inches apart and store them in a location between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit. This method requires checking on them every day to see if they have ripened or not and re-wrap them if they are not ready. I say, hey! If you have time for all that, it is probably your best bet. As for me, well I am a busy and quite lazy gardener! I cannot be checking each tomato all of the time to see if it is ripe, if it has rot or mildew then re-wrap them and repeat every day. So I came up with my own way. It involves two steps: leave them on the counter and watch them ripen. That’s it! I place the tomatoes in a basket and put a towel over them to keep out as much light as possible. When they have ripened enough, I use them. That simple.

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You can ripen tomatoes indoors for more reason then just cold temperatures. Many gardeners ripen tomatoes indoors to keep pests, birds, squirrels or rabbits away from the tomatoes they worked so hard to grow. Animals are smart and always seem to get to the harvest before you do. 😮

Will ripening tomatoes indoors give you tomatoes that are just as good as picking them ripe off the vine? Probably not. However any homegrown tomato will still be 100 times better than a store bought tomato. Growing your own food is one of the most rewarding feelings and a little bit of winter blues doesn’t have to stop you. After all, spring is just around the corner! 😉

Until Next Time!

Much Love,

Eva

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Why Are my Squash Stems Splitting?

Planting squash in your garden can be very exciting especially since they tend to germinate very quickly. I have had zucchini and yellow squash germinate within 4 days! The also produce beautiful large flowers that will attract bee’s to your garden.

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One issue that seems to plague various squash plants is stem-splitting. This is when the stem of the plant seems to dry and crack open, exposing the inside of the stem. Stem splitting can happen very quickly, sometimes within just a 24 hour period. It can be very disheartening to see your stems split and your squash plant slowly dying but before you throw your hands in the air and give up on gardening, lets take a look at why this happens and what can be done to help save the plant.
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Many times the reason why your squash stems are splitting are due to natural causes. Strong gusts of wind can easily put stress on the large hollow stems causing them to split. One way that I combat against this is to mount some soil around the stem until it reaches the leaves. Make sure the the soil covers the split. Also many people use tomato cages for their squash plants. Both methods will help stabilize the plant to combat against stem splitting. By using a tomato cage you will also slowly teach the leaves to grow vertically in order to save a lot of space. This will especially come in handy for home gardeners with small back yards who are trying to maximize their space as squash plants tend to take over the garden bed!

Another possible reason for stem split are pests. There are many different bugs that can wreak havoc on all different varieties of squash but there is one that stands out when it comes to identifying the cause of stem splitting. The Squash vine borer is a black and red moth that resembles a wasp in body shape and flight. These moths lay their eggs at the base of the plant and when when the larvae hatches it burrows itself in the stem of the plant, stopping the flow of water and nutrients to the rest of the plant and ultimately causing the stem to eventually split. Using organically acceptable insecticides will only help if you catch the larvae before they get inside of the stem. The best way to get rid of them is to cut them out at the first sign of possible stem split. Gently cut them out and cover the stem with good soil. I have heard that some gardening pro’s simply take a pin and kill the larvae without damaging the stem. I certainly am not there yet but hope to be one day!

Until Next Time!

Eva

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