During the month of April there are many things you should be doing in the garden. Planting vegetables like beans, cantaloupes, and squash can give you an endless supply of delight when you begin to harvest them so let’s get busy. If you have not started your seed liners yet, that’s ok. There are many garden centers that have small plants available for you to use in the garden. I am going to tell you what varieties I grow and how to care for them during this growing season.
Pole beans and lima beans are both great plants to grow and are very easy to maintain. You will need a small trellis to help support them but once they are up and growing they have few problems to worry about. I like to plant McCasian or Kentucky Wonder pole beans as they grow best in our area. If you can not find them, order seeds in advance for the spring planting season. If you can find them at your local garden center, get the best looking plants you can then put them in pots. I like to use at least a 5 gallon pot filled with a good potting soil and then I half bury the pot into the ground for support and to lessen my watering schedule. I use three plants per pot and normally will put one pot on each end of my trellis. If you are using an earth box, I will put the plants on either end of the box and I use strings tied to support stakes for the vines to grow on.
As the plants grow you will want to make sure you water them and keep them in the full sun. Once the plants are about 2-3 feet tall I will start spraying the plants with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Grow to help the young plants develop. Even if the plants are in an earth box, I cheat and add additional liquid fertilizer. When you add the liquid fertilizer read the label for proper mixing instructions then mix the fertilizer at only 1/2 strength. Make sure to pick the young full-sized pods when they are smooth. Harvest pole beans every few days.
Lima Beans are another favorite of mine and the “pole” varieties can grow over an 8 foot trellis. If you purchased your plants from the garden center plant them the same way as the pole beans. If you are starting your plant from seed be sure to maintain constant even moisture as lima beans will not set properly if over watered also do not soak them first as this will crack the seed and possibly ruin your crop. I like the Jackson Wonder or Dixie Butterpeavarieties. As the plants grow you may want to use some mulch over the pot to conserve water. Be sure to limit the watering to the plant only as overhead watering during the flowering period can make the flowers fall off and limit your production. Lima Beans are ready to pick when the pods are plump and firm. Check plants every few days and pick pods when they look ready.
Beans are subject to pests like aphids and diseases like leaf spotting. Use Sevin Dust, Liquid Sevin, or Neem oil for pest problems and Dithane M-45 for fungal problems. Use these products sparingly and wait several days after use before picking the beans. Be sure to wash the fruit before eating.
Cantaloupes are another great plant for home gardens but they require room or as I have seen in the past, at least a support structure to keep the cantaloupes’ off the ground. I like the variety Athenawhich is a hybrid that does well in Florida. Fruit average up to 5-7 pounds each and you can expect 5-7 per vine. I like to plant cantaloupes in groups of 3-5 plants per mound and I always improve the soil to include peat, Perlite, compost, and a little fertilizer. Start plants either from seeds or from starter plants available at some garden centers. Cantaloupes take 75-90 days to fully mature and they do require a little work to get a good crop.
Beetles and powdery mildew can be problems but if you manage your spraying schedule you should be able to control these problems. Beetles chew on the leaves and reduce the amount of nutrients available the plant. Spray the plants every 10 days with Neem oil or Liquid Sevin to control these and you can add Dithane M-45 to the same tank mixture and take care of the powdery mildew which affects the leaves. With a little patience and care you will be eating fresh cantaloupes’ from your garden in no time. I know some of you do not like to spray your plants with pesticides but the insect and fungal pressure we have in Florida make it mandatory.
Cantaloupes are ready for picking when the vines start to dry out. Hold the stem close to the fruit, if the tip of the stem is soft where it attaches to the fruit, the fruit is ready for picking. If the fruit is soft it is overripe. At this stage you will have to watch out for mice, rats, and other animals which will steal your harvest.
Squash is another of my favorite garden plants. We can grow Yellow Crooknecks, Calabaza, and Zucchini. All varieties of Squash love compost so add a generous helping to the soil along with little peat and Perlite for drainage. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches and then level the ground, then plant the Yellow Crooknecks. If you are planting from seed, use three or four seeds per planting hole and once the plants are up cull out the weak plants and leave only one or two of the strongest. If you are using starter plants use two per hole. Make sure you water regularly and add fertilizer once the plants are 6-8 inches tall.
Calabaza is also referred to as the Cuban Pumpkin. These vines are large runners so they will need extra room to spread out. Like Yellow Crooknecks, Calabaza will need improved soil to produce large fruit. The leaves on the Calabaza vine have a mottled appearance so don’t be fooled that they have a fungus problem. However, just like the Crooknecks, both get powdery mildew on the leaves so if you see this fungus spray with Dithane M-45 every 10 days. Once the fruit form on the vine they will grow to a weight of 5-10 pounds. I like the varieties “La Primera or La Segunda” as these varieties tolerate our Floridasun.
Zucchini is another easy grower and most nurseries carry starter plants. Look for the variety “Spineless Beauty”. Improve soil as I mentioned above and sow seeds or starter plants in rows 36 inches apart. Water regularly to keep the soil moist but do not overwater. Zucchini’s like to be fertilized so either incorporate fertilizer into the soil before planting or add additional fertilizer as the plants start growing. Harvest Zucchini and Crooknecks when the fruit is 6-8 inches long. The more fruit you harvest the more the plant will develop additional fruit so check your plants regularly.
All squash have problems setting fruit. After the plants flower I get many calls from people who say the fruit start to develop and get about 2-3 inches long then the fruit withers and falls off. This is due to improper bee pollination. If this happens to you, get a camels hair brush and do what the bees do. Stick the brush in the flowers and gently swirl the brush around the inside of the flower. Repeat this on all the flowers. I have had much better success in fruit set using this technique. Aphids are also a problem. If you see insects on your plants try Neem oil or Sevin Dust. Downy Mildew or Silverleaf can be controlled if caught early by using copper. You may need more than one application to control this problem.
Gardening can be a rewarding experience the whole family can enjoy. I hope you enjoy your garden as much as I do mine. Thank you for your support and until next time, remember without plants we wouldn’t be here!