Posts Tagged ‘Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens’

Flats of heirloom tomato seedlings.

For several weeks, Sadie nurtured her babies. She started them from seed, but now they are getting big, and she is pushing them out into the world. She had help from Victor, the proud papa who helped pot them up, preparing them for their new homes.

Sadie is the farm manager at Bee Heaven Farm, Victor is a farm hand, and their “babies” are thousands of heirloom tomato seedlings. Not all will get planted on the farm. Many are grown for sale, and will be available at Ramble this weekend at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Picking out the best plants.

Seedlings were also available at the recent Edible Garden Festival, also held at Fairchild. It was a sight to see! Dozens and dozens of varieties loaded down three long tables in front of the farm’s tent. There were so many seedlings it looked like a sea of small green leaves and white name tags.

Sadie (left) helps a customer choose plants.

The varieties for sale are the same ones that farmer Margie Pikarsky grows year after year. She knows which ones do best in this climate, and which will have problems. Heirloom tomatoes come in all different sizes, shapes and colors. Small tomatoes are the most prolific, and they will ripen through the season. They come in several shapes — round, grape and pear (or teardrop) — and colors — red, yellow, orange, pink, white, brown and black. Yellow and orange are sweeter, and the black and brown varieties have a stronger tomato flavor. White and pink tomatoes are very pale in color, but that doesn’t diminish their flavor. Beefsteak varieties, which are familiar to gardeners from Up North, just aren’t as prolific in this climate. They will bear about five or six fruit per plant, before they succumb to heat and bugs. All varieties are certified organic, started in clean potting medium, and grown without any chemicals.

Beth got enough plants to fill her backyard garden.

The serious gardeners came out in full force early Saturday morning. They were looking for specific varieties, and scooped up armloads of plants. It was fascinating to hear that in one garden, the yellow pear did well, but in another garden, it was a struggle. Matt’s Wild Cherry, a small Everglades tomato, did well in a lot of gardens last year, and is hardy enough to bear through May. One man said he was a teacher and bought a variety of plants for his school garden. Many people were mixing and matching plants to get a wide assortment of colors and flavors.

In an interesting trend, almost half the gardeners planned to grow their plants in pots on a patio or balcony. One man even brought his iPad and proudly showed pictures of 70-plus pots, complete with an overhead irrigation system, on his back patio. That was last season and he wanted to do something like that again. If you have pots and sunlight, you can grow vegetables just about anywhere.

A terrified Florida scorpion.

And of course, you can’t have an organic plant sale without bug drama. Sunday afternoon a small black scorpion emerged in a flat of Green Zebras. It startled two of the volunteer helpers. The scorpion looked pretty scared too, and and tried to make itself very small as people stared at it.

Cheech, the scorpion wrangler.

A young man ran over, picked up the flat, and heaved the scorpion into a nearby planting of bromeliads, thus ending the drama. The scorpion had hitched a ride from the farm. However fearsome, it is one of nature’s pest controls, and won’t sting people unless provoked.

Don’t fear, there’s no more scorpions lurking. Come to Ramble and adopt Sadie’s babies — there’s still hundreds of plants left. Come try a variety you never grew before. No matter which ones you choose, the color and flavor of a perfectly ripe tomato that you grew yourself will be incredibly better than anything you can find at the store!

Thanks to Marilyn and Buddha, who came out to pot up thousands of seedlings. Thanks to Adri, Holly, Kathy, Kristin and Marian, who helped at the Edible Garden Festival.

Gardeners shopping for heirloom tomatoes on the first morning.

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Ramble 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011 – Sunday, November 13, 2011
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Now into its seventh decade, the Ramble is still going strong. The annual festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is billed as the largest plant sale in South Florida, with more than 15,000 plants up for grabs.

And that’s just the tropical ornamentals the Garden is selling. If you’re not into that, there will be plants for your vegetable garden too. Bee Heaven Farm will be in the Greenmarket area again this year with lots of heirloom tomato seedlings — and avocados, honey, herbs, luffas and other goodies. Yes, there’s plenty of seedlings left, so if you missed getting some at the Edible Garden Festival, now is your chance. Come visit and join the fun!


Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road
Coral Gables FL 33156

Admission: Free for Fairchild Members and children 5 and under.
Non-members: $25 for adults, $18 for seniors 65 and up and $12 for children 6-17.

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It’s time to plant your fall vegetable garden! Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is once again holding its annual Edible Garden Festival this weekend, October 22 and 23, from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.  The gardening celebration will have ongoing lectures, cooking and gardening demonstrations, free yoga class in the mornings, a beer garden (it is October after all), a plant sale and a farmer’s market.

Baby tomato seedlings. Picture taken about 4 weeks ago. Plants for sale are much larger!

Bee Heaven Farm will be there with hundreds of heirloom tomato seedlings and dozens of varieties to choose from — small cherry and pear tomatoes, plum and paste varieties, and large beefsteaks. Heirloom tomatoes come in a rainbow of colors — yellow, orange, red, purplish black (those have the best flavor!), brownish red, pale pink, and even thaose that stay green when ripe. Heirloom tomatoes have some of the most creative names — Green Gage, Brown Berry, Sun Gold, Lollipop, Tommy Toe, Matt’s Wild Cherry (an Everglades tomato), Podland Pink, Brandywine, Black Krim, Georgia Streak, Tigerella, Homestead 24, Taxi, Black Plum, Cream Sausage, Speckled Roman, Red Zebra, Green Zebra — and that’s just a few of the kinds that Bee Heaven Farm will have at the Festival. It’s easy to fill your garden with tomato plants. Buy 5 and get one free. Buy 15 and get 5 free.

Here is a select list of garden demonstrations:

Saturday, October 22

11:00 a.m.    Basic Cheesemaking Techniques, Hani Khouri, Mediterranean Organics
12:00 p.m.    The Tools You Need to Grow Vegetables, Muriel Olivares, Little River Market Garden
1:00 p.m.      Building Rich Soil, Ben Thacker, Troy Gardens
2:00 p.m.      Local, Organic Eggs: Their Importance in Your Diet, Alice Pena, PNS Farms

Sunday, October 23

11:00 a.m.    Planting and Caring for your Tomato Plants, Margie Pikarsky, Bee Heaven Farm
12:00 p.m.    Designing Your Edible Garden, Dylan Terry, Ready-to-Grow Gardens
3:00 p.m.      Edible Landscaping, Melissa Contreras, Urban Oasis Project

Admission is free for Fairchild members and children 5 and under. Non-members pay $25 for adults, $18 for seniors 65 and up and $12 for children 6-17. Free admission for active military personnel, and you get a $5 eco-discount if you walk or bike to the gardens. Click here for a $2 off coupon.

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The 70th annual Fairchild Ramble is this weekend. If you haven’t been, it’s a huge, amazing event, with plant sales, food vendors, a calliope — and my favorite, the Farmer’s Greenmarket.

Redland Organics will be there, of course. If you missed out on getting tomato starts at the Edible Garden Festival not too long ago, or you want to get more, you’re in luck. Farmer Margie will have smaller assortment of tomato plants, along with arugula and collard starts, flowers including tithonia (Mexican sunflower), and a varied assortment of organic fruits, vegetables and herbs.

IMPORTANT — Redland Organics will NOT be at the Pinecrest Gardens Green Market this Sunday! But, Farmer Margie will be back the following weekend.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road
Coral Gables, FL 33156
Phone: 305-667-1651

Members may enter at 9:00 a.m.; Non-members may enter at 9:30 a.m.

Admission: Free to Fairchild members and children 5 and under. Non-members: $25 for adults, $18 for seniors 65 and up and $12 for children 6-17.
Eco-discount: If you ride your bike, walk or use public transportation, receive $5 off for adults and $2 off for children.
For driving directions, click here.

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Ten students from the Ecology Club at Miami Southridge Senior High School put in a day’s work at Bee Heaven Farm. This was not just any kind of work day but an Environmental Immersion Day, as part of the Fairchild Challenge, sponsored by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

On Thursday, November 3rd, ten students, their Ecology Club advisor, and the Challenge coordinator arrived bright and early in the morning. Farmer Margie gave them a tour of the farm, along with a explanation of organic farming practices that she follows. The kids were introduced to the vermicomposting setup by intern Eric Morales, and learned how to grow worms to make worm castings and worm tea, which are then used as fertilizer.

Farm intern Eric Morales teaches the ins and outs of the Worm Manor.

But the must important part of the day lay ahead. The students’ mission was to get rid of invasive, non-native plant species that had taken root in a buffer section planted with native plants. On the non-native hit list were long pesky

Non-native jasmine vine

vines of a sweet smelling but totally invasive variety of jasmine, a variety of morning glory, and wild petunia with purple flowers. Although these plants look pretty when they bloom, they can quickly overwhelm the natives by competing for light and space.

The non-natives had put down long runners that threaded through and on top of cabbage palm, coontie and and other native plants in the buffer area. Those vines are tough to remove. You can’t just grab and pull on it, and expect it to come up. You have to grab one end and start working your way back to the root, then dig a bit to pull it out, or the whole plant will grow back.

Non-native morning glory

Margie carefully pointed out the difference between the non-native jasmine leaves which had a pointed tip, and a very similar native plant which had smaller leaves with a rounded tip. An albizia, or woman’s tongue, tree was attacked by students with loppers and a pruning saw. They hacked it into chunks, loaded them into a wheelbarrow, and wheeled it to the compost heap. Part of a shrubby Brazilian pepper suffered a similar fate.

Farmer Margie shows how to attack Brazilian pepper.

The students were accompanied by the Ecology Club mentor, Jennifer DeHart, who teaches AP environmental science at Southridge. She picked students who were the most active in the club to participate in this day’s Challenge. Her ten

Non-native albizia or woman's tongue tree

students worked hard, sometimes in a drizzling rain, and cleared out a good bit of “bad” plants by the end of their day. Most importantly, they learned a bit more about plants, worms and organic farming — and what to do about a wasp sting.

Non-native wild petunias

Also on hand was Challenge coordinator Marion Litzinger, from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. She explained that the Fairchild Challenge is a free school program to get kids involved in hands-on activities alongside scientists or growers. The goal is to reconnect kids with nature and the environment, Marion explained. Students win points based on doing different Challenges throughout the school year, and all the points add up to winning varying amounts of money for their school, as much as $1000, meant for improving the environmental situation at the school.

For more information about the Fairchild Challenge, contact Marion Litzinger at 305-667-1651 ext. 3356 or mlitzinger@fairchildgarden.org.

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You can buy heirloom tomato starts raised at Bee Heaven Farm this weekend at the Edible Garden Festival held at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Here’s a list of what kinds of starts will be available this weekend.

Heirloom tomato starts: Mexico, Speckled Roman, Zapotec Pleated, Homestead 24, Taxi, Tigerella, Black Prince, Amish Gold (an awesome cross between Sun Gold and Amish Paste), Black Cherry, Brown Berry, Black Plum, Black Zebra, Cream Sausage, Green Zebra, Red Zebra, Black Zebra,  Large Red, Lime Green Salad, Italian Heirloom, Federle, Opalka, Orange Banana, Super Snow White Cherry, Pink Ping Pong, Striped German, Tiny Tim, Koralik, Dr. Carolyn, Tommy Toe, Sun Gold, Creole, Healani, Tropic, Jaune Flamme, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Peacevine, Podland Pink, Podland Pink, Yellow Pear and many more!

Several varieties of tomato starts are registered in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. They are: Cherokee Purple, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, Sudduth’s Brandywine, Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, German Pink, Valencia and Red Fig. For a food to be listed in the Ark of Taste, “it has to have something exceptionally good, like flavor, or be in danger of disappearing because not enough people are growing it anymore,” Margie explained.

Veggie & Herb Starts: Arugula, Listada de Gandia Eggplant, Florida Highbush Eggplant, Garlic Chives, and more.

First harvests from Redland Organics growers:

From Redland farms: Certified organic Avocados, Carambola, curryleaf, fresh dried allspice berries, Thai basil, jakfruit, Rachel’s Eggs, local Wildflower Farm Honey and Tropical Fruit Honey.

From Punta Gorda partner Worden Farm: Cukes, squash, radishes, turnips, dandelions, bok choy, scallions, collards, dill & basil.

Prices for any combination of starts are $3 each, buy 5 get an extra one free (6 for $15). Buy 15 get 5 more free (20 for $45). All new this season, Redland Organics will have a credit card terminal and a SNAP terminal to make your shopping easier.

Also at the Festival, Margie is scheduled to give a talk about growing tomatoes called Beefsteaks are BORING! “Get away from beefsteaks, they take too long to grow. Be more adventurous!” she said. “Cherry tomato varieties do so much better down here.”

Several Redland Organics growers, members and others connected to R. O. will be giving presentations. Here’s the select lineup:

Saturday Oct. 23

1:30 p.m. Green Garden Enchiladas cooking demo by Adri Garcia, Greenrocks Foods, LLC.  Mise en Place, LLC., Cooking Tent
2:00 p.m.
Cheese making demonstration with Hani Khouri, Corbin A

Sunday Oct. 24

10:30 a.m. Drip Irrigation workshop, Muriel Olivares, next to Butterfly Garden
11:30 a.m. Tomato time! Beefsteaks are BORING!  Margie Pikarsky, Garden House
12:00 p.m. Urban Food Forests, Marion Yanez, Corbin A
12:30 p.m. How to Make a Raised Bed Garden, Urban Oasis Project, next to Butterfly Garden
2:30 p.m. Your Edible Organic Garden, Ben Thacker, Garden House

Edible Garden Festival
Saturday October 23 and Sunday October 24, 2010
9:30 am to 4:30 pm
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road Coral Gables, FL 33156
Phone: 305-667-1651

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Still at the Fairchild Farm & Garden Festival… Ducked out of the lecture on preserving the harvest (sorry, Margie!) to catch Robert Barnum’s cooking demo under the big tent. Robert, as you might recall, is also known as the Cantankerous Chef. And Saturday he was downright crabby, showing his recipe for fried piper betel leaves with coconut crab sauce.

Robert Barnum with Fairchild volunteers Mary Hughes and Terry Shaw assisting. Mary Neustein is in the background, plating piper leaves.

When I got there, tempura batter had been prepared, and Fairchild volunteers Mary Hughes and Terry Shaw were dipping piper betel leaves (remember those from your CSA shares earlier this season?) into the batter, frying, and cutting them into pieces. Robert was finishing up making the coconut crab sauce. Saw a whole can of coconut milk going in. Mmmm, everything’s better with coconut milk!

Amaury and Tanya liked the crab dish.

The finished sauce was spooned out over plated betel leaves by volunteer Mary Neustein. Terry and Candy Sacher were handing out plates to the eager audience. As quickly as people got the food, it vanished. You’d think they don’t get fed at home, but yes, it was that good.

I grabbed a plate before it was all gone, and sat down to savor the flavor. The sauce had chunks of sweet (fake) genuine lump crabmeat provided by Whole Foods, and celery, bell pepper and onion, tasted gentle, slightly tangy and was creamy from the coconut milk. It could have used some kind of hotness. The recipe below calls for Tabasco, but there just wasn’t enough for my liking. The fried piper betel leaf was crispy in a light, egg-flavored tempura batter, and its sausage-y flavor contrasted nicely with the milder crab sauce. Actually, I liked the fried leaves just as they were, without the crab. They would be an interesting snack to munch on with a cold light beer, maybe while lounging in a hammock on the beach. Instead, there were white plastic chairs under a tent, and Robert had brought a bottle of his own wine made from the bignay or antidesma berry. Hard to describe, especially since I don’t have the vocabulary of a wine and food writer, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself!

Piper betel leaf garnishing the finished serving of crab and fried betel.

I had heard Robert talk a lot about this particular recipe, when he entered it into the Gordon Ramsay competition a few months ago, but this was my first time trying it. Robert said he had first tasted a similar dish in Sydney in a 12 course prix fixe dinner of Asian food, and liked the dish so much that he recreated it with a few tweaks over the years. The original crab sauce he ate had been “fire hot,” he explained, but his version was mild and mellow.

If you want to get a piper betel plant to grow in your garden, contact Robert Barnum at 305-235-1768 or possumplentious(at)yahoo.com.

If you want to buy a package of leaves for your own culinary experiments, contact Margie Pikarsky at 305-894-6657 or office(at)beeheavenfarm.com.

Tempura Fried Betel Leaf with Coconut Crab Sauce


8 betel leaves, fresh and washed
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup rice or wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup corn oil
1/3 cup cold water

1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, cleaned, diced
1 8 oz. can crab meat
1 tbsp. butter
1 12 oz. can coconut milk
1 tsp. garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4-6 juga-juga of Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp. brandy
1 1/2 tsp corn starch
optional hot pepper flakes


Heat oil in heavy pot with tall sides to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, corn starch, baking soda, egg whites salt and water in a bowl. Dip leaves one at a time in batter and place into hot oil. They cook very fast, 1-2 minutes, then flip. 1-2 minutes more then drain on paper towels and keep hot while you fry the rest.

Lightly brown the onions, celery and green pepper in the butter in a skillet. Add the seasonings and brandy and simmer for 5-8 minutes, and add coconut milk. Heat and add cornstarch in 2 tbsp. cold water or reserved coconut milk and stir till thickened. Add the drained crab meat and stir until heated through. Serve over the fried betel pepper leaves on a salad plate.

Recipe courtesy of Robert Barnum

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