Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite growers and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.
Peter Carbonaro — along with his wife and three children — runs C5 Organic Farms, an organic vegetable farm with goats, chickens, and more in Tampa, Florida. He grows year-round in raised beds to provide healthy food for his family and to help teach his children the importance of gardening and raising animals. We chatted with Peter about his gardening journey, his animals, and how his children get involved in the farm. If you’re not already itching to scoop up two acres of land to start a farm, we bet you will be by the time you’re done reading this!
On How Peter Got Started Gardening
I used to own a comic book store and in 2016 [my wife and I] had our third child. We moved to a new house, I sold the comic book store to become a stay-at-home dad, and these things really changed life for us. At this time my wife started having some gut issues and she became allergic to about 27 different foods that she hadn’t ever been allergic to before. So her diet had to change dramatically. Our new property is about two acres and even though I’d never grown anything before in my life, everybody kept coming to my house and telling me that with all this new land, I had to start. So I did! We started three years ago with four raised beds and now we have 16 raised beds, chickens, goats, and a food forest.
One of the more fulfilling things about gardening is the fact that I’m providing a lot of food for my family. I’m also kind of OCD and like our gardens laid out a certain way, so building it out is also fun for me.
On Gardening Year-Round In Tampa (Zone 9b)
We can grow year-round in Tampa but there are really two growing seasons that are best: the fall season, which starts in August/September and goes through January. Then we start up again in February for our spring season, which goes until about June. The summer gets a little tricky here if you don’t grow the right stuff, so you can definitely grow year-round but you can’t do things like tomatoes in the summer — it’s just too hot.
A Virtual Garden Tour
Our vegetable garden has now grown to about 2,500 square feet and next to that we have another 1,500 square feet which is a nursery and greenhouse. We just got our nursery license this week, so that’s pretty exciting. Then we have about 1,000 square feet for our chickens and goats.
Me being Italian, I always have to grow tomatoes because we make a lot of sauce — we make sauce like every week here. So I really like having tons of fresh tomatoes. We also really like cucumbers and making pickles so we grow those every season. With my wife’s dietary needs, we grow a lot of greens and kale. Lately we’ve been experimenting with root vegetables that we enjoy, especially turnips and radishes which have a quick turnaround time. Since September, we’re now on our fifth round of radishes. We also just started experimenting with passion fruit and have some seedlings going for (Kiwano) Jelly Melon, which is a spiky fruit that inside is like green jello. Sometimes the kids see something in seed packets and want to try growing it, which is a big part of what we experiment with as well.
On Why They Grow Organic
We grow organically for two reasons. One is for the health of the family. I figured we were starting out fresh, so why not go organic? The other reason is that I’m a manager at Grace's Hydro Organic Garden Center, so that was where I really got my start in gardening and my boss taught me pretty much everything I know. He is a mentor to me and showed me how to grow everything organically.
How Peter Gets His Kids Involved In Gardening
We homeschool our girls, who are 11 and 13, and the garden is a big part of the homeschooling. Every morning they go out and take care of the animals and do the garden chores. A lot of learning goes on outside on the farm for them.
I think they like seeing the changes and progress to the garden. We grow mostly from seed and have a cloning machine and do lots of cuttings, so my middle daughter really likes that. She loves lifting the cuttings up and seeing the roots coming out. But they both really enjoy the whole aspect of change in seeing something grow from seed to flower to fruit.
This year we decided to do more flowers, too, so we just started a variety of Marigolds, Zinnias, Borage, and Violas. The garden is usually very green so this year we’re trying to add more color.
Watering The Old-Fashioned Way
Everybody thinks we're crazy, but we hand water everything. But it’s one of the aspects of gardening that I really enjoy. Also my wife’s uncle lives with us, and he’s in his seventies, so he loves going out there to water — that helps big time. But we’re on a well and have good, clean water that comes out pretty neutral. So that’s great. Hand watering also allows for us to get out there and check on the garden on a regular basis, so that’s the other benefit.
Using C-BITEs In The Gardens
I used them this past year for a tomato cage and they worked great, so this coming season I’m going to try some different things around the garden with them. We’re doing a lot of beans this year and more trellising things, so the C-BITEs and bamboo stakes are going to make it really easy to set everything up.
On Their Farm Animals
We have goats, chickens, and quails. The goats are pretty much pets. Our first two goats were boys that came neutered and we kept joking that they were our practice goats because eventually we wanted to get some females to milk. Just this weekend, we happened to get two female nigerian dwarf goats. We aren’t ready to milk them yet; we need to get a stud and get them pregnant and go through the whole process. But for right now they seem to be settling in well with our boys so we will see what happens and take it from there!
We currently have 16 laying chickens and two roosters, except one of the roosters is in jail right now because they’re fighting. We also have eight baby Easter Egger chicks that aren’t laying yet and six eggs in our incubator that should be hatching next week. It’s our first time hatching our own eggs so I’m not even sure it’s going to work, but we’re hoping.
We have quails too because my daughters won’t let me process the chickens [for meat] — all of the chickens have names and once you name them you can’t eat them! We go through a lot of chicken meat so I decided to raise and process quails because they have a fast turnaround time and I keep them away from the kids in a different kind of pen.
Peter’s Favorite Flower And Veggie To Grow
One of our favorite plants on the property is Cranberry Hibiscus. My son eats the leaves like potato chips and we make teas out of it; the goats and chickens love it, too. It’s one of my favorite things to propagate; we clone the crap out of it!
My favorite vegetable to grow would definitely be tomatoes, because of the sauce.
Peter’s One Piece Of Gardening Advice
Start with good soil! The soil down here in Florida is garbage and I see so many people trying to use the stuff from the big box stores which is horrible, too. So start with good, balanced soil and go from there.