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V is for victory, and also for vegetables

We're midway through November, and that means the old oak should soon be done shedding acorns. This is our 17th autumn in Florida, the sixth in this house, and so we have grown accustomed to the annual flurries of acorns plopping on the metal roof of our well-shaded back porch.

Mostly they land with a random "BAM!" but occasionally they fly en masse, pelting the roof in machine gun staccato — rat-a-tat-tat — after a sudden breeze or the branch-launching acrobatics of the backyard squirrels.

Our Northern visitors often are startled at the gunfire sound in a way that amuses us. "How can you stand it?" they ask. We shrug it off. It is white noise to us now. Seems we've adapted to autumn in Florida. Time for bouncing acorns and football, open windows and milder temps, and the planting of the fall vegetable garden.

The latter is a new kind of activity here for hubby and me, one I expect will become a custom as we brace for what's to come.

We call it our victory garden because, as happened during World War II when victory gardening became commonplace in America, present times seem to command this kind of resourcefulness. And I suppose, we can bump fists for finally making it past the planning stage.

My husband and I have been cultivators of flowers for most of our 28 years together. We enjoy the beauty and the shared sense of accomplishment that comes with the blooming of tulips, daffodils, lilacs, cosmos and such in our gardens up North; jasmine, day lilies, flowing bougainvillea, cosmos here in the South.

We grew lots of vegetables up North, and strawberries and raspberries, too. Enough, I'm proud to say, to dole out to others and to blanch and freeze to live off during the winter months.

But here in the South, it's been a different story.

Those who have tried and failed know well that there is a big learning curve for the transplanted Northern gardener. We're inept, even though we once laid claim to growing the best beefsteaks ever. Adapting means kicking the old "Northern way" that had you curling up with a blanket and a seed catalogue some time in January, turning a recently thawed plot sometime in April (if you were lucky), planting Memorial Day weekend and harvesting during the summer.

Memorial Day is too late or too early to sow here even though there's more than one planting season. We found that out the hard way some years ago when we surveyed our wilting crop of tomato seedlings that would never bear fruit in the summer heat.

Now, thanks to advice garnered online and at Saturday morning workshops at the Pasco County Extension Office in Dade City, we managed to start on time this year.

So it was late August/early September when we tilled and cleared what St. Augustine grass the grubs hadn't devoured in our side yard. We tossed in manure and compost and started our own seedlings in tiny pots right around the time the acorns first started to drop — even though it felt a little odd.

Now, with Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, the eggplant and the bell peppers have long sprouted their first true leaves. The cherry and big boy tomatoes are growing sturdy, and the zucchini and winter squash are sporting melon -colored blossoms alongside the cukes that are starting their crawl through the front yard.

And we have already enjoyed our first harvest: a small basket of green beans picked fresh by my youngest and me a couple of weeks ago to complement Tuesday night's turkey meatloaf.

From the garden to the table. To be sure, there's nothing quite like it.

The sweet taste of victory.

Michele Miller can be reached at (727) 869-6251. Her e-mail is miller@sptimes.com.

Michele Miller can be reached at (727) 869-6251. Her e-mail is miller@sptimes.com.

V is for victory, and also for vegetables 11/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:54pm]
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