Monday, March 9, 2015

Time to start your Florida garden

One of the great things about Floridian nature is the ability to have a year round garden. For those of you thinking about starting a spring garden the time to get going is now! I started my garden last week and just need to get my green beans going before I am done. You can see the recommended Florida gardening planner at Floridian Nature.

Vegetable gardening offers fresh air, sunshine, exercise, enjoyment, mental therapy, nutritious fresh vegetables, and economic savings, as well as many other benefits. Gardens may be grown year-round in Florida, but spring is the preferred season. Statewide there are over 1 million vegetable gardens, averaging 300 sq. ft. and a retail value of $300. Vegetable gardeners in Florida are lucky to have lots of sunshine and mild winters amenable to growing a multitude of food crops most months of the year. That said, Florida home growers face several challenges that northern gardeners do not. Florida soils in many locations are mostly sand and not very fertile. Most garden beds will need to be amended with compost, manure or commercial mixes to improve water and nutrient holding. Organic or synthetic fertilizers will also need to be mixed into the soil to improve fertility.

Compost home yard and kitchen waste to use in the garden each season, or obtain free compost from the local landfill, if available. For further information on Florida gardening, you may want to purchase a book from our Florida Nature Library.

Site - Locate the garden near the house for convenience on a site close to a source of water with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. With proper care, vegetables may also be included in the landscape among ornamental plants. Where possible, practice site rotation for weed and other pest control. Coastal sites are also suitable.

Soil Preparation - While most gardeners plant on whatever soil type is available in the garden plot, you may improve your soil by bringing in topsoil or a soil mix, or by applying liberal amounts of organic materials. Spade or plow the plot at least 3 weeks before planting. Then rework the soil into a fine firm seedbed at planting time.

Organic Matter - Most Florida soils benefit from applications of various forms of organics such as animal manure, rotted leaves, compost, and cover crops. Thoroughly mix liberal amounts of organics in the soil well in advance of planting, preferably at least a month before seeding. Spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or animal manure per 100 sq. ft. if you do not expect to use inorganic fertilizer. Well-composted organics may be applied at planting time. Due to inconsistent levels of nutrients in compost, accompanying applications of balanced inorganic fertilizer may be beneficial. Organic amendments low in nitrogen, such as composted yard trash, must be accompanied by fertilizer to avoid plant stunting.

 Watch out for garden pests. I had horn worms eat my all my tomatoes practically overnight. he tomato or tobacco hornworm starts life as tiny larva, but very quickly it can grow to 4 inches long and as thick as your index finger as it munches through your garden. One hornworm can defoliate an entire tomato plant if it isn't stopped in time. The amount they can eat in twenty four hours is incredible! Tomato hornworms feed only on solanaceous plants, most often on tomato. However, larvae will also attack eggplant, pepper, and potato. There are many solonaceous weeds that also serve as alternate hosts, including: horsenettle, jimsonweed and nightshade. Eggs of the tomato hornworm are deposited singly on both the lower and upper surface of leaves in late spring. The eggs hatch in six to eight days and are oval, smooth, light green to yellow in color, and measure 0.10 cm in diameter. The caterpillar reaches the final instar in 3-4 weeks, and is 3 1/2 to 4 inches when fully mature. Fully-grown larvae then drop off of the plants and burrow into the soil to pupate. During the summer months, moths will emerge from pupae in about 2 weeks. Moths emerge from the soil, mate, and then begin to deposit the eggs of the next generation on tomato plants. By early fall, the pupae will remain in the soil all winter and emerge as a moth the following spring.

Be sure to choose varieties that are well adapted to Florida’s climate and the typical pests and diseases found there. The seeds and transplants found in retail stores may not be appropriate for Florida as they are often ordered in bulk for the whole country. It is a good idea to research varieties before making a decision, and ordering seeds that have the highest likelihood of yielding a good crop in Florida. Make sure to plant warm season crops and cool season crops at the appropriate times or results will be sure to disappoint.

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