Many volunteers gathered recently at three Tampa parks — Al Lopez, Gadsden and Rowlett — to plant fruit trees for the public.
This project, started by Tanja and Jared Vidovic, was approved by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Supplies were donated by local businesses. Workers were recruited through Tampa Gardening Swap, a local gardening group on Facebook, as well as Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful. They started at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning with shovels in hand and set to work.
I went to Rowlett Park where Tanja Rose Vidovic not only supervised but worked all morning with her 8-week-old daughter Ruby sleeping peacefully in a harness held to her heart. Three other little girls were having a great time helping.
Six trees, compost and other soil amendments, tools, mulch and everything needed was on hand. Jared Vidovic brought a wheelbarrow from their home across the street in which to mix the mulch with Epsom salts. Many shovels and young, strong people made quick work of digging deep holes twice as wide as the soil in the containers. Then they turned each tree out of its pot carefully to keep the soil together, and put the good soil mix in the bottom of the hole until the tree sat just an inch or so above ground level. It will settle to fit.
More good mix was used to fill in the rest of the hole. Rock dust (azomite); one sixth of a bag of Happy Frog, which contains bat guano and worm castings; neem cake; and a bit of apple cider vinegar and black strap molasses were spread over the top. The dug-out soil was used to make a slight berm all around the plant to hold in the water.
Mulch was spread over the newspapers around the four trees several inches deep.
The citrus got just a shallow bit of mulch with the soil around the trunk left bare, since citrus trees can get root rot if they get too wet too long.
The city will water the trees three to five times a week for the first few months, and the gardening group will fertilize and prune them for the first two years.
The citrus and Chickasaw may fruit this year. The loquat should produce next year, and it might take a few years for the star fruit to produce. But once it does, it usually has two to five crops annually.
Quite a few of us finished the morning with a quick trip around the edible garden at the Vidovic home. I came home with seeds of perennial kale to plant and much inspiration.
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Today’s pick is the porterweed, a native perennial plant that thrives in sun, comes in a sprawling variety and can grow 5 feet tall. Tanja taught me the blue flowers can be taken off the stem and eaten as you graze in the garden, or mixed into a salad. They tasted like mushrooms. The leaves can be dried to make a tea and the spikes used for flavoring, like a bay leaf.
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Now’s the time to talk about dropping fruit. Yes, some fruits will fall to the ground before they develop as the tree sheds what it can’t ripen. A bit will also fall later, but it certainly won’t matter as long as it’s kept away from paths and other walkways. It provides food for wildlife.
♦ On Saturday and Sunday, Myrtle Cail will open her garden to the public from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at 811 Knowles Road, Brandon. This is the lady who makes such lovely glass garden ornaments. For information, call her at (813) 685-8141.
♦ Master gardener Rosalind Scriven will present a free program May 7 on butterfly gardening at the Bloomingdale Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. For directions, call (813) 273-3652.
Monica Brandies is a lifelong gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monica [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.