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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Brandies: Do you know where your food comes from?

As a teacher and adviser for her school’s parent/student club, Fran Grossman realized something upsetting while talking with parents two years ago. Many of the children didn’t know that food comes from the ground before it shows up in the grocery store. They’ve never seen the source. So 18 months ago, Grossman decided to turn her yard into an urban farm to show them. Her fruit trees are still small, but the veggies are thriving and already she’s saving $240 a month on her grocery bill, which she says is “a lot of money to a teacher.” She is also saving what she used to spend on lawn mowing. Some of her students and some of the neighborhood children helped her remove all the grass, add three truck loads of composted horse manure to the soil and plant edibles for people and for butterflies. She says she knew nothing when she started. She took classes on organic living, went to master gardener talks and other free events, and asked questions. She joined the Riverview Garden Club and the Rare Fruit Council. She has come so far so fast she is now speaking to garden groups.
For protein, she raises rabbits, feeds them organically and uses their manure to feed the plants. She butchers some rabbits for meat. A friend taught her how and she says it’s not so hard, though it’s not a favorite chore. Some of the lucky rabbits remain pets. Her back garden leads down to one of the Heather Lakes, but there was so much growing it was a while before I even noticed the water. With our mostly frost-free winter, winter crops – cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and kale – and some spring and even summer crops like tomatoes and eggplant are growing together. Her back porch has become a greenhouse where less hardy young trees in containers spent the winter and seedlings are sprouting for spring. She’s been eating tomatoes all winter long, which is unusual for most Florida gardeners. The future can only add to the variety of quality organic food for her table and the show-and-tell opportunities for her students. Today’s pick is the pigeon pea, also called Congo pea, an erect annual or short-lived perennial that grows like a shrub from three to 10 feet. Grossman’s plant is about five-feet tall and six-feet wide and came from seeds eight months ago. In Florida you can plant seeds in full sun in April or May and harvest by fall. The peas can be eaten as fresh shell beans or as dry beans. Seed pods and leaves are also good for livestock. Since they’re part of the legume family, they add nitrogen to the soil. Seeds are available from my favorite seedsman J.L. Hudson. Now’s the time … to tell you about a great place Grossman recommends to get good horse manure for your garden: Annwyn Equestrian Center. It’s at 2916 N. Valrico Road, Seffner. You need to call ahead, (813) 523-9440, and talk to owner Kathleen Petersen.  The center doesn’t deliver but it has a loader if you have a truck. Or you can just fill bags, boxes or other containers. The cost is only $10 for any load – up to a pick-up truck. Check it out on Facebook. I’m going as soon as I can borrow a truck, maybe even sooner. Upcoming event From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 1 master gardener Lynn Barbar will present Recycle Your Garden at the Bloomingdale Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave. in Valrico. For details, call Jim Mayer at (813) 661-8452.

?Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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