Beneficial Bugs Building our Soil

In gardening, we try to harmonize well with the plants we choose to grow. But what about the bugs we find in our garden? Do we harmonize with them? We do—well, sort of. There are the innocuous bugs that disappear before us into the flora and soil.

Then there are the Angels that fly into our gardens on fortuitous breezes. We welcome them to our yards, decorate our homes with their images, and have moments of Zen when we see particularly colorful ones flitting by. We would never dream of capturing one firmly between our thumbs and fingers and roll it back and forth until its abdomen ruptures, and we’d never douse these angels with sprays of soapy water or oils or pesticides to reduce their numbers. They are just too precious!

But our adversaries… how can we harmonize with these that devour the plants? Without a second thought, we hone in on them and flick, crush, swat, or spray. And sometimes things may get so bad that we entertain engaging in chemical warfare on a micro scale just to give the plants we’ve tended to since they were seedlings or just tiny seeds in our hands a fighting chance.

Additional bugs that are beneficial to your garden!

Additional bugs that are beneficial to your garden!

But it seems the longer we’ve been gardening, the more we’re coming to realize that these pests, our Adversaries, are indicators of the state of our gardens and they are communicating something important to us. And if we take a moment to pay attention, we might remember that their goals and Nature’s goals do harmonize well with one another– and the more we plant and create a garden that harmonizes with Nature, the more we’ll be in harmony all the kinds of bugs it attracts. So, crazy thought…. what if by getting to know garden pests, our adversaries, they become our comrades in Nature, our partners in education, and help us toward becoming more knowledgeable growers and better skilled gardeners in the process?

This blog is new. We’re hoping it’s informative and interesting, too. We’re taking a closer look at what lies beneath our lawns and in our gardens so we learn together how to position ourselves better and align our goals to be closer with those of the plants we grow as well as with the bugs they attract–big and beautiful, small and important, microscopic and vital—so we can create a space where goodness grows, skills and knowledge coalesce, and harmony in and around our gardens and yards is more easily established and maintained.

Our first go at this task is taking a closer look at the humble pillbug, also known as the roly poly.

The pillbug is most commonly known for being that fun “bug” children collect in the palms of their hands and then gently coax into rolling up into tight gray balls. But calling pillbugs “insects” or “bugs” is a misnomer, because pillbugs are actually crustaceans, more closely related to shrimp, lobsters, and crayfish than to the many insects they live among in our gardens’ soils. Their shells (yes, shells) protect their soft and predominately water-based insides from tiny probing fingers to hungry predators, and they still breath through their gills, a remnant-organ from when they lived among their cousins in the sea.

So, these crustaceans eat a lot of things, and one of these things is the tender roots of your beloved plants. And there are an amazing amount of websites devoted to the eradication of this “bug” from gardens and potted plants for this reason. Pillbugs are typically found in soils where there’s organic material in need of composting, so where there’s soggy soil and decaying root systems, they’re probably there, too. They work along side garden soil royalty, like the amazing earthworm, digesting rotting plant material and converting them into food bits accessible to the fungi, protozoans, and bacteria in the soil, which then they convert into nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphates, and other elemental foods for your hungry plants to absorb.

And even though pillbugs are known for eating roots, they won’t eat enough to where they harm the health of the plant, as long as the plant is healthy. And frankly, I’m okay with sharing a little to keep these guys ’round. (Sorry!). Because, as scavengers and composters, they do two more remarkable things: 1) they help end the life of unhealthy plants to make more room for healthier ones and provide nutrients for them too; and 2) they decontaminate the soil. They remove toxic metals from your garden with their amazingly specialized gut that absorbs metals like lead, copper, and cadmium and render them less toxic or innert upon defecation; and because of this adaptation, they have the ability to thrive in soils that are way too toxic for most other insects and help to convert these toxic soils into habitable places where insects and earthworms can one day live, compost, and thrive.


About two years ago I took a vegetable gardening class at Leu Gardens with Robert Bowden. Robert said that bugs will eat your plants. That’s just what they do. And that’s okay. A little nibble here, a leaf or a few there. He said he doesn’t mind sharing. As long as the plants are healthy and he can harvest enough fruit for his family–that’s what matters. As so many of you know, a bug-free garden is a stagnant, sterile garden–and what good can grow there?

michelleSo next time you see a pillbug rummaging through your soil, maybe you’ll feel a surge of appreciation for the wonders it’s unwittingly doing and think, “Hey, thanks, buddy,” because this little crustacean is going about its business improving the health of your soil. And they really are fascinating little crustaceans. If you go to the article “Ten Fascinating Facts About Pillbugs,” I promise you will learn several surprising things you never knew about the humble pillbug.


Written By: Melissa Lee

Summer Strawberry Kale Salad

Remember to be careful with all your sharp tools and use cutting boards to prevent scratches on your counter.

Remember to be careful with all your sharp tools and use cutting boards to prevent scratches on your counter.

For the salad – serves two:
1 bunch chopped kale
8 freshly, sliced strawberries
1 handful of blueberries
1/4 cup of shaved, lightly toasted almonds
Several slices of hand shaved parmesan – garlic and herb feta would taste great too!
*For extra protein and good fats, add 1 sliced avocado
**All fruits and vegetables can be found at your local farmer’s markets! Get fresh ingredients for more nutrients and a better taste!

Strawberries I bought from the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Strawberries I bought from the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturdays.

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice – depending on how acidic you want your dressing to be!
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon chia seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

How to:
1.  Add chopped kale to a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and some olive oil.
**Something to remember: to avoid the bitter taste and harsh crunch, massage the kale with your hands until the leaves are darker in color and tender.
2.  Add sliced strawberries, blueberries, avocado, almonds, and gently toss.
3.  In a small jar that has a lid, add the ingredients for dressing. Give it a good shake and pour over the salad when it is ready to be served.
4.  After mixing the dressing, sprinkle the shaved parmesan cheese and then you’re ready to go!


Voila! A simple, yet fresh and tasty salad ready to eat!

New Additions to the Fleet Farming Family!

The Orlando program of Fleet Farming is just now entering its second season. With almost double the growing space as last season, we have some extra hands on board to keep up with the farmlettes. We hope you are able to meet the new Fleet family members at one of our upcoming Swarm Rides, but in the meantime you can learn a little about them below!

Fleet Farm Manager
Michele Bumbier, a native Orlandoan is a passionate gardener finding true joy working with plants. Fleet Farming encompasses all of the activities that she loves; sorting through garden goodies, working outdoors, installing beds for others, interacting with the community, bicycling for a cause, and supporting the sustainable movement. Michele is currently a Horticulture student at Valencia, a garden intern with The Florida School of Holistic Living as well as Edgewood Children’s Ranch, and a Permaculture Design graduate of The Green Education Center in Orlando. She occasionally teaches gardening classes, installs permaculture designs, speaks publicly about permaculture, and works with homeschool children in the garden.

11891154_951436584903115_214159385655414543_nFleet Research Apprentice
Melissa Lee is the Project Lead of Audubon Park Garden District’s (APGD) Community Garden for which she’s won the APGD’s 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award. Currently, she’s interning with Fleet Farming, learning about the Small Plot INtensive (SPIN) model of farming, and is raising her awesome kids with her husband in Audubon Park. If she could have one gardening wish granted, it would be to work the land with her community to help create a sustainable and vibrant, pollinator-friendly gardening culture in Audubon Park.

Fleet Farm Apprentice
Fran Champin is currently an undergraduate student at Rollins College expecting to graduate with a double major in Business Social Entrepreneurship and Anthropology. She is involved in many organizations with the college like, cross-country, JUMP, yoga club, residential life, and more. She has a strong and enthusiastic passion for the environment and the endless opportunities it can provide for communities.
“Although I have had many learning experiences from my own garden at home, Fleet Farming never ceases to teach me something new and amazing!”

Homemade Acai Bowl

– 1 frozen acai packet (I usually buy the Sambazon Unsweetened pack from Publix or Whole Foods – look at image 1 for a photo visual!)
– 2 cups of fresh strawberries and blueberries
– ½ cup of kale
– ½ cup of spinach
– 1 lime (squeeze out the juice – if you like more citrus flavors feel free to add more.)
– ½ cup of a liquid of your choice (I use either: water, homemade pineapple water, or fresh home squeezed orange juice depending on what I am in the mood for. Be creative!)

Sambazon PIcture Image 1. Sambazon Unsweetened Smoothie Pack; there is also the Original Blend which contains more sugar

– Organic, gluten free granola
– Kiwi (sliced at your own preference)
– Banana (sliced at your own preference)
– Agave nectar (or honey if you’re not vegan)
– Chia or flax-seed

Break the frozen Acai blend while it’s still in the plastic. Then put the pieces into a high-powered blender and combine it with the berries, greens, liquid, and lime juice. Depending on how thick you want your bowl you can add ice or frozen fruit. Remember, buying frozen fruit is not always your best option. You can always pack and freeze your fresh Fleet Fruits in Ziplocs until you want to use them for your next bowl or smoothie! Empty the mixture into your bowls and top them with your sliced bananas, kiwi, granola, chai seeds, and agave… Violà! Enjoy the taste of fresh and natural every morning.

Acai Picture

A Kale Salad Fit For Summer

FullSizeRenderBy now, the only greens left in the garden that can tolerate the summer heat are the weeds, summer greens like Malabar and Okinawa spinach, and possibly some kale in the shade. If you can wrangle up enough kale to make a couple salads, we highly suggest giving this refreshing recipe a try!

½ cup pecans
A big ‘ol bunch of Fleet Kale (lacinato, dinosaur or toscano varieties work well)
½ cup dried cranberries (or dried cherries)
1 medium Granny Smith apple (or your choice of seasonal fruit – strawberries, peaches, etc.)
2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1½ teaspoons honey
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


  1. Heat up pecans in either the oven or on stove top.
  2. De-stem the kale and chop the leaves into small, bite-sized pieces. In a large bowl, mix the kale with a small pinch of sea salt and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.
  3. Coarsely chop the pecans and cranberries (or cherries) and add them to the bowl. Chop the apple or fruit of your choice into small pieces and add to the bowl. Crumble the goat cheese over top.
  4. In a bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together (or shake it up in a mason jar) and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until the salad is evenly coated with dressing. Serve immediately, or for even better flavor, let the salad marinate in the dressing for 10 to 20 minutes beforehand. *Don’t let sit too long or it gets a little soggy.

*Recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate.

Healthy Central FL Furthers Urban Farming through Fleet Fruits

The USDA just announced a new funding opportunity this week, through which they will allot $800,000 to local food initiatives. While federal support of localization is something we should all be grateful for, we are even more proud and appreciative of the support from our very own community!


Ecstatic about our accomplishments made in our first year!

This past month, Fleet Farming was awarded $2,500 from the Healthy Central Florida Foundation (HCF) to further the reach of the new urban fruit gleaning concept, Fleet Fruits. HCF and community partners, Florida Hospital and Winter Park Health Foundation, have been vital to the success of Fleet Farming, as well as many other community initiatives. Fleet Farming was originally granted $5,000 from HCF last June to launch Fleet Farming. Since then, the relationships that have formed from this network have affirmed even more faith in the power of partnerships to accelerate change.


The 2015 Healthy Central Florida Innovator Grantees

Anyone who has applied for a federal grant will tell you that it’s no walk in the park, so it’s so important that understaffed change-making organizations have the opportunity to apply for local grant opportunities like this one. IDEAS For Us Co-Founder, Chris Castro, says “We are grateful and delighted to be awarded this grant and to continue working with HCF on expanding innovative urban agriculture models in Central Florida!”

Photo by Ricardo Williams

Chris Castro, IDEAS For Us Co-Founder and Heather Grove, Program Coordinator. Photo by Ricardo Williams

More on the grant program and some words from Heather in the video below!

Locally Fresh Feature at Florida Film Festival

Thanks to a great group of filmmakers from Full Sail University, this short video was produced for the Enzian Theatre’s Florida Film Festival event, Locally Fresh. Four local producers were chosen, including Olde Hearth Bread Company, Lake Meadow Naturals, Palmetto Creek Farms, and us! Each producer had a short film followed by a cooking demo using their ingredients. The Enzian Chef featured some of Fleet Farming’s mint, which became part of a tasty cocktail!

Fleet Fruits: Re-CYCLING Forgotten Fruit

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 9.02.57 PM

Fleet Farming is proud to present: Fleet Fruits. As Floridians, we are bound to see some ripe oranges just dangling temptingly from a tree while driving just a few blocks in a residential area. You may have this problem yourself, or you could be watching your neighbors’ grapefruit tree drop its fruit to the ground, where they are left to rot.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 9.04.04 PMIt isn’t just in our local neighborhoods where food goes to waste. Food waste is startlingly common, with 40% of food in America being wasted, with only 10% of that food being recovered. The NRDC has concluded that “reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year.” One of the barriers to successfully recovering the wasted food is a lack of funds needed to glean, collect, package and distribute the fruit.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 9.01.38 PMSince Fleet Farming is all about growing and distributing healthy, local foods, we’ve decided to expand our horizons to include gleaning and distributing healthy, local foods, rather than letting it go to waste. While making sure less food is wasted, we will also be ensuring that more people have access to fresh produce; something that 23.5 million people cannot access within a mile of their home.

10906434_692669104183052_8569164749938000992_nIf you decide you want to donate fruit from your trees, visit Fleet Farming’s sign up form, where you can list the details about the type and size of your tree. We will follow up to see when it fruits, and then we will come and harvest it. After harvesting, the fruits will be sold at Market. Plus, you’ll receive a tax deductible receipt for donating the fruit, and you’ll also be left knowing that the fruit your tree produced wasn’t left to rot on the ground or eaten by pesky rodents, but was rather consumed by happy, and healthy locals. It’s a win win win!



Fleet Farming is Not That Kind of Farmer

Two University of Miami students, Karli Evans and Traia Thiel, heard about Fleet Farming through their school chapter of IDEAS For Us. They devoted their fall semester film project to documenting the story of Fleet Farming, making several visits to Orlando to be a part of the Swarm ride and to record every stage of our expansion. Since completing the film in early February, Karli and Traia have started an entire website to feature the sustainable local food scene in Miami, called Not That Kind of Farmer. We’ve been waiting for the right moment to share it with you all!

In celebration of completing our 10th working farmlette, we want to thank every urban farming volunteer, our sponsors, our mentors, and especially this film team for helping us….
1. Grow and sell over 1,000 pounds of produce to Central Florida
2. Engage over 80 volunteers
3. Complete 38 pedal-powered Swarm Rides
4. Get 80 homeowners to sign up to donate their lawn
5. Sell to over 8 local chefs and distributors

We couldn’t have grown this much without you. We are so grateful for your support!

Your Spring Garden

While we may not have had the snowstorms that ravaged much of the North East, Central Floridians are pretty happy that the chilly days are behind, and warm days await. While you can hop on over to the Audubon Market to buy our freshly harvested produce, there’s nothing stopping you from using the warm days to tend to your own garden. As we know over at East End, there is nothing quite as satisfying as growing, and eating, from your own yard.
If you are plating for the first time, take a gander over at our blog post from last year (, and that will help you out from what type of compost to where to get your seeds. Once you have your garden all set, it’s time to get growing!
10 Veggies to Plant in Spring:
Lima, Pole, and Bush Beans: March – April
Sweet Potato: March – June
Cantaloupes: March – April
Sweet Corn: March
Eggplant: March – April 
Okra: February – July
Cucumber: March
Watermelon: March – April
For herbs, it may be smart to start in a pot, and then it can be transferred to your garden once it matures. Cumin, which is perfect for your homemade curry, can be planted in Orlando in the Spring, and harvested once the leaves turn brown. Rosemary is a sun lover, and fresh or dried leaves can be used for cooking. Basil is of course an easy grow, and just like rosemary, it loves the sun, plus, it also attracts beneficial insects. For a perennial herb, try mint, which can actually be grown in shade or the full sun.  So happy farming, Orlandoans, and say hello to Spring!