Plant More, Sweat Less

Welcome Amanda Streets to Learning to Grow in Florida! I was introduced to Amanda through our passion to compost. It’s an unique basis for a meeting, but sometimes that’s all you need. Amanda runs Pinellas Community Compost Coalition and Living Roots Eco Design. She and I are collaborating to teach composting to the general public in a workshop designed by Grow Permaculture. Please join us along with the other gardening workshops. Enjoy Amanda’s article on the importance of growing your shade!

Unfortunately, I just had to have a gigantic oak tree removed from the south side of my yard. Before removal, we happily gardened and lounged barefoot in the backyard all day long – in the shade of said tree. Now, the ground burns our feet and the sun scorches our skin. My hammock, once graced for an afternoon cat nap daily, is now in my laundry room. Hot, hot, hot. I can’t wait for my small but fast growing fruit tree to cast enough shade to sit beneath.

The increase in sunlight wasn’t a surprise. I understand the basic physics of sunshine and shade. What shocked me was the increased temperature. I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that the thermometer would soar to almost 20 degrees hotter.

How Do Trees Keep the Cool?

A tree is a living organism. It has the same basic needs as a human – air, water, food, and shelter. It just meets these needs a bit differently. Instead of breathing with lungs, a tree transpires. Water vapor is released into the atmosphere from their leaves. As a result, the surrounding air is cooled. Shade below, water vapor above… it’s an air cooling double whammy!

This cooled air is wonderful over a hammock or playground, but what about over the roads? The pavement gets hot enough to cook an egg! And it stays hot. I dread having to wrestle my toddler in and out of the car seat in a hot parking lot. It’s no wonder that I pray for a big oak tree to park under. A shaded surface can be 20-45*F cooler than an unshaded surface. That’s a huge difference!

Want to Lower Your AC Bill?

Trees should be planted on the south, west and east sides of your home for maximum cooling. Unless you have a tree or structure, you won’t ever have shade on the south side of your house. The sun’s rays are strongest in the afternoon from the west, and the east morning sun streams into your windows to heat the house up early.  You want to plant your trees near enough to your home to shade the house, patio and yard, but far enough away to avoid roots damaging the foundation. Consider the location of underground utility lines, too.  Leave a few feet of space between your home and shrubs to allow for airflow. Larger trees will cast more shade, smaller trees and large shrubs will cast less. Bamboo is also an option, but please buy it from a reputable vendor to avoid the bane of running bamboo. The clumping variety is preferred so it doesn’t take over the neighborhood.

In addition to trees, vines on trellises or pergolas will grow quickly and cast shade.  In Florida, you shouldn’t allow vines to grow on your house; it can damage the exterior and lead to other problems down the road.  Low growing groundcover plants rather than rock or concrete can cool the ground up to 10 degrees.  I have a small concrete patio with rocks next to it and have noticed this area is super toasty. I think I’ll swap the rocks out for a native groundcover that doesn’t need to be mown and put a tall potted plant nearby to shade the patio.  Between the two, I’m sure to see a temperature drop.

Make a Game Plan

With a thoughtful arrangement of trees, shrubs and groundcovers, you can really lower the temperature of your yard, home and surroundings.  Imagine if all of your neighbors did the same – cooler street, cooler breezes! It’d be an oasis in this subtropical sauna of a Florida summer we’ve been having.


20180205_104017About Amanda

I have always had a passion for gardening and growing my own vegetables. As a child, my family grew most of our vegetables in our garden and picked wild berries and fruit, canning or freezing the excess, and sharing with friends and family. I didn’t appreciate the sense of community at the time; I was a child. But I always loved the plants. Now, I see the problems our communities face with food being grown in unhealthy ways, being shipped from one side of the world to the other, and processed with so many chemicals. I’d like to offer families a way out of this wasteful cycle and a chance to reconnect with nature. Using regenerative permaculture techniques, fruits and vegetables can be grown easily in your own yards. We live in an area with the capacity to produce such bounty. Let’s grow together!

Learning to Deal with a ‘Marley and Me’ Moment

Several years ago I read the book “Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog Ever” by John Grogan. For those who are not familiar with the book, it’s a story of a young family and their life with a dog named Marley. As the title suggests, sometimes Marley makes life difficult – there is an entire chapter dedicated to things Marley ate. Ironically, my dog, Baxter, ate this book. Baxter could have given Marley a run for his money for the title ‘The Worst Dog Ever.’ Every dog owner should read this book. (There is a movie if you aren’t a reader.) John Grogan paints a picture that reflects the love and loyalty that only a dog can offer – no matter how many times they knock the garbage over, and you find yourself surrounded in a disgusting mess.

Over 11 years ago Baxter was rescued from Guardian Angel Basset Rescue and brought into my home. He was 9 months old and scared. He had been beaten as a puppy and didn’t trust anyone. That all changed with a ‘Baxter burger’ (a hamburger from McDonald’s) in the back of a car. Baxter had been run by his stomach, so it made sense that a burger exchange created love with his new family. I worked nights at the time, so Baxter and I spent many mornings strolling through a neighborhood park. I was determined to make this dog feel comfortable. Yet, it wasn’t that easy.

A beaten dog pees on the floor when you accidentally trip, lunges at strangers, and turns into an anxious mess when his people aren’t present. Baxter wasn’t easy. The dog park became a thing of the past. If a visitor came to the house, Baxter had to be put in a bedroom. But he loved his family, and he found joy in sprinting around the coffee table and knocking over the garbage. He experienced gliding in a canoe, camping in the snow, and hiking on rocky terrain. And with each daughter that entered my life, Baxter had another person to love and be loved by.

But 11 years is a long time for a dog…

One day I knew I’d be sitting in a veterinarian office remembering, crying, and letting go of that furry friend that so wholly became a part of the family. Monday was that day. And I didn’t cry; I sobbed. I remembered every silly little thing that Baxter did and then I cried harder. I said goodbye and cried some more. And, to be honest, the screen is blurry because I’m still crying. Those furry friends sure know how to take your heart.

Goodbye Baxter. You’re already missed. Bark all you want. None of the neighbors will care. Promise.

Florida Gardening in June

June Gardening:

First, yes, I am completely aware that it is no longer June. I haven’t turned senile. I know it’s July. I just returned from a visit in Wisconsin, which is why this ‘June’ gardening is actually being published now (I forgot to pack my FL gardening books.).

My poor gardens have been severely neglected and need a good weeding. I have spent so much time designing other gardens and workshops, that I have abandoned my own green space. Luckily, it’s raining pretty consistently, and I don’t grow too many annuals this time of year, so I just need to get outside and weed.

Learning to Grow in Florida marked it’s one year! What began as a healthy emotional outlet (both gardening and writing) has inspired me to begin my own non-profit, Pineapple Acres – a holistic gardening space that offers gardening classes, workshops, holistic design and a chance to experience the spiritual love of nature. In the last year, my backyard wasn’t the only being that transformed and blossomed. I feel unrecognizable to who I was last summer. And that’s a good thing. I hope to continue to grow, and thank all of you for being a part of this journey. Cheers to a year filled with love, joy and beautiful plants!

What to plant in the vegetable garden:

The only thing growing in my annual raised beds are compost volunteers or kitchen to garden experiments. Still, there are a few vegetables that can handle the heat and humidity:

  • okras
  • sweet potatoes
  • Southern peas
  • calabaza
  • chayote
  • dasheen
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • malanga

What I harvested:

  • pineapples
  • Jamaican cherries
  • tomatoes
  • strawberries (I have a few plants tucked in shade.)
  • greens

What is flowering:

  • Jamaican strawberry tree (I’m getting so many cherries on this tree!)
  • crepe mrytle
  • oleander
  • periwinkle
  • perennial peanut
  • desert rose
  • marigolds
  • hibiscus
  • squashes
  • watermelon
  • milkweed
  • crinum lily
  • plumeria


Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.

Learning Self-Love

“Self-love is the biggest service you can provide humanity.”

I recently discovered that my 6-year-old daughter, who I thought was really helpful at cleaning her room, just shoves toys, dirty laundry, shoes, and books under her little sister’s bed. I lifted up the mattress and found all kinds of goodies begging to be put where they rightfully belonged.

Now you’re going to ask me what does a child’s dirty room have to do with self-love? Well, how many of us shove our issues into some compartment where we can’t see them? Where they are easier to avoid? Where they lay forgotten? Where they collect dust and become unrecognizable? I bet we all do.

In recent months, I have chosen to clean under my bed, uncover all my issues. When I pulled out all the bad memories, hurt feelings and negative emotions, I wanted to turn around and kick it all back under the bed. But why? They’d still be there waiting to be found another day. I couldn’t. I had reached a point in my life where I was ready – or at least I wanted to be – I wanted to heal; I wanted to face my fears; I wanted to experience joy that resonated with God’s love – not a new job, a significant other, or pretty new shoes. I craved purpose, joy and meaning that came from me.

It’s a challenging journey. And I’m getting there. It took a lot of courage to sit in a pile of problems. Sometimes I wanted to curl up and sob. The room was too messy. The hurt too much. But why? I learned that I hadn’t thought myself worthy, deserving, good enough or lovable. Those are hard things to process. In that moment I discovered the part I played in my unhappy moments, my dysfunctional relationships, my failures.

And I’ll tell you, it’s so much easier to love someone else than it is to love myself. We are our worst critic; our toughest competitor; our worst enemy. But I’m working on it. Some  days it feels selfish. Because choosing to say, “No,” for no other reason than “I don’t feel like that works for me” is really hard for me. I like to make people feel good; I like to heal people; I like to be there for others. And I can still do that. But I realized that I cannot continue to sustain a healthy being if I do this at the cost of my own schedule, my own dreams, and my own love. Loving ourselves isn’t selfish; it’s actually a love that brings us closer to God because it aligns us with our higher purpose, which is to be a witness to God’s love. If we love ourselves, we love others more easily without judgement, without expectations, without playing games. And that is the healing magic of self-love.

What does self-love looks like?

It’s different person to person. For me, self love is:

  • Climbing a tree because I want to. And not being afraid as I rise higher into the canopy. This is living in the present moment and such a healthy practice.
  • Surfing by myself. I have four daughters. I rarely do anything alone, so choosing to do something alone feels very selfish to me. But surfing is so healing, and something I need.
  • Sitting alone in the early morning, drinking coffee, and meditating. Silence is a rare and precious gift in my house. I take it when I can.
  • Dancing. I love to dance. My kitchen is usually my ballroom; it’s where I listen to sexy Latin dance music. It’s where I can get silly with my girls and transform my tile floor into a ballet stage.
  • A bubble bath. This is a place where I create stories and poetry.

So, today I challenge you to take a moment to create space for a little self-love and self-care. You deserve it! And if you have the courage, clean from under your bed. Things will be messy, but eventually everything gets put right where it belongs.

“Live for yourself and be happy on your own. It isn’t any less beautiful. I promise.”

Meet Kelli

I’d like to feature the lovely ladies working behind the scenes with me for the women’s soul retreat, The Sisterhood Within. As a co-creator, I am happy to be working with these women, who each bring their own perspective and gifts to this vision. My final feature is Kelli Varon. (If you missed Jessica, Sydney, Lori or my feature click here.) Read Kelli’s story and then visit our event site for more details on this amazing retreat opportunity! I hope to welcome new women to my life in the fall!


Kelli grew up climbing trees, caring for critters, and exploring the unique Everglades and Coastal ecosystems of Miami, Florida. She quickly discovered what made her happiest in life was new learning opportunities and a constant connection with the environment.

Kelli follows the belief that “education is not preparation for life but is life itself.” After graduating with an emphasis in Experiential Education she has worked to purposefully connect others to direct experience with focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their local and global communities.

Kelli’s passion for learning, sustainable practices, and environmental stewardship has lead far from her suburban South Florida upbringing. She has worked as a Youth Event Program Director in Western North Carolina; a Naturalist and Program Coordinator in Mendocino, California; and as an Educator and Outdoor Center Program Director in the Delaware Water Gap of New Jersey.

After 10 years in leadership positions, Kelli decided to focus on expanding her personal knowledge in sustainable growing practices. Since then she has volunteered for organic and permaculture farms in the states and abroad, apprenticed at a large organic CSA farm, developed a market garden business, and managed an organic greenhouse operation.

When shes not barefoot in the dirt, researching sustainable growing information or organizing her next travel adventure, Kelli enjoys hiking, developing primitive skills, sunny beach days, and binge watching or reading most anything in the realm of Science Fiction or Fantasy.

Learning to Cook with All that Food from the Garden

I would like to welcome another guest writer, Sydney Wilk. I met Sydney while attending my permaculture design course. She a health coach and creator of Plant Love Wellness. She understands the importance of fueling our bodies with healthy choices. Enjoy her blog!

Since when did eating healthy become so dang complicated?! Counting calories, weighing portions, eating no fat, no carbs, no sugar, high protein, no grains, following the diet of our ancestors, consuming only raw food… the list goes on and on of what you should or should not do when it comes to food. Each new diet trend claims to be better than the next and is the ‘perfect’ and only way you should be eating. The more mainstream these diets become and the more experts that back them, the more credible they seem. And look I’m not discrediting them, but just because a particular way of eating works for you, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone else, or ANYONE else for that matter. Believe me, I have tried pretty much every diet out there and while they were tolerable at first, I wasn’t able to stick with any of them for more than six months. My issue isn’t with the creation of a new diet to follow, it’s that it claims to help everyone and usually has a strict regiment that you must follow. No one likes being told what to do (honestly they don’t!) especially when it comes to what they decide to put in their mouth every day.

While these diet trends have certainly helped numerous alleviate their illness or gain a six-pack, the best thing you can do to eat healthy is find your own diet that works for you. This likely isn’t going to be some plan that you can follow in a book–although there A LOT of diet books out there. Finding your perfect way of eating is going to involve a good deal of trial and error, and consulting popular nutrition material can be a great sounding board. Though, the key to solving the mystery of ‘what should I eat today’ ultimately begins with listening to your body and noticing how it responses when you ingest certain foods. This method is going to take some time to fully figure out–mostly because there are so many food choices, but it shouldn’t take long to discover a general idea of what works and what doesn’t.

It is a really really good idea to keep a journal (or mental note- if you can remember everything you ate the previous week, I cannot) of the types of foods you eat each week, as well as making a note of how you felt throughout that time. This will allow you to create a food map of which types of food are nourishing you and which you should probably cut back on. If you really want to figure out a sufficient diet quickly working with a health coach, or someone who can hold you accountable, can ensure that you will reach those break-through moments.

I’ve learned that, like most things in life, feeling truly healthy is a journey not a destination. It took me almost ten years to finally find an eating style that suited me and I am still constantly making adjustments. Have fun with the process and don’t get caught up in what is right or wrong. After all, eating nutritious foods is only secondary to keeping healthy (yes, I said it!). You can eat all the kale in the world, but if you are in a career you hate or stuck in an unhappy marriage, you will not experience optimal health. Sure, eating well is an important FACTOR, but it is not the secret ingredient for losing that extra fifteen pounds. Nurturing yourself from the inside out first is when you will see the real transformations take place.

I’m including a couple recipes that have help ME to feel like my most vibrant self, that may be of some use to you as well. And if not, hey that’s okay too! It’s all about the journey anyway.


Mango-Berry Smoothie Bowl   

serves 1


1 cup frozen mango chunks

½ cup frozen raspberries

½ cup almond milk or other nut milk

your favorite toppings like sliced almonds, coconut shreds, cacao nibs, fresh fruit, granola

Recipe: Combine first three ingredients into a high-speed blender, like a Vitamix, and blend until creamy. You may have to add more milk depending on the thickness desired. Then add toppings and enjoy!


Eggplant Pasta  

serves 2-3


2 large zucchinis

2 medium sized tomatoes, diced

1 eggplant, cubed

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 bunch of greens (romaine or spinach)

¼ cup diced onion (white or yellow)

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 TBS pine nuts

1 bunch fresh parsley

1 TSP dried oregano

1 TBS sesame seeds (optional)

salt & pepper to taste

Recipe: Start by turning your zucchini into pasta via a spiralizer and set aside. Then add the minced garlic and onion to a large frying pan on medium heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes until garlic is fragrant. You can add water, 1 TBS at a time, to prevent garlic and onion from sticking. Add the diced eggplant to the pan along with a couple TBS water and cook until eggplant starts to get tender, but isn’t finished cooking yet. Next, place the zoodles (zucchini pasta) into the pan. The zucchini will release a lot of water while cooking, so be careful to not have too much liquid in the pan beforehand. Stir mixture together, and after a few minutes add the tomatoes. Add the balsamic vinegar and dried seasonings (oregano, salt & pepper, sesame seeds-if using) and combine well. Continue cooking on medium to low heat until eggplant is done and tomatoes have broken down some. When the mixture is done, but still hot, add the greens and stir constantly until they are wilted (this works best with spinach), then remove pan from heat. In a separate sauce pan, toast the pine nuts on high heat until golden brown. Place eggplant pasta onto serving dishes and top with freshly chopped parsley and pine nuts. Dig in!

IMG_0299Sydney graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in 2018, where she received her certification in health coaching. With her passion for all things food related she started Plant Love Wellness, a health coaching practice that helps women discover how food is affecting all areas of their life. She regularly holds cooking workshops at her local grocery co-op and is in the midst of writing a plant-based recipe eBook. When she isn’t in the kitchen, she is in the garden getting her hands in the dirt or chasing her bite-sized dog around the yard. She currently resides in the horse capital of the world, but thinks she is more suited for a place that isn’t quite so land locked. You can keep up with her food creations and adventures on Instagram or Facebook @ plantlove_wellness

Meet Stephanie


I’d like to feature the lovely ladies working behind the scenes with me for the women’s soul retreat, The Sisterhood Within. As a co-creator, I am happy to be working with these women, who each bring their own perspective and gifts to this vision. My fourth feature is me. (If you missed Jessica, Sydney or Lori’s feature click here.) I know you all know a little bit about me, but perhaps you’ll learn something new. Read my story and then visit our event site for more details on this amazing retreat opportunity! I hope to welcome new women to my life in the fall!

Stephanie is the CEO and founder of Pineapple Acres – a holistic healing and educational center. This is a place where she combines spiritual healing and nature. For Stephanie, gardening is not simply about growing plants. Gardening is a chance to reconnect to nature, where she can seek the space to listen to her soul. Stephanie wants to spread this magic through experiences and education in her outdoor classroom. Stephanie has been gardening since she was a little girl. She has experiences in landscaping and is certified in permaculture design. She co-created a children’s gardening club and designs school educational gardens. She recently partnered with a county park to design another children’s garden in the Fall. When she’s not gardening, Stephanie enjoys writing, surfing, cooking, and spending time with her family. She has published several poems and is creating an epic fantasy novel. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in English and an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is also earning certification in meditation, mindfulness, energy medicine and stress management.