The end of July marks the point of time when we need to look at our fall vegetable gardens. Planning what types of vegetables or spices you are going to be using and getting your beds ready for these new crops needs to start now. Most of us plant from seed so you will need to purchase that seed right away and get your seed pots ready to plant them in. I also want to give you a few new ideas of where to plant your garden and what you can grow in them. This is a great time of year so lets get started.
Planning your fall garden can be as easy as just adding a little organic peat to your existing garden and tilling it in. Remove any weeds or old plants that may have been growing first and then add a little additional fertilizer and dolomite before turning or tilling the soil. The additional peat will help to lower the pH and help produce better plants. The fertilizer and dolomite will give you bigger and better tasting vegetables. An average ten by ten garden will need an additional nine cubic feet of peat, five pounds of fertilizer, and three pounds of dolomite. Make sure these materials are evenly distributed throughout the existing garden before turning or tilling them into the garden.
For those of you that have not had a garden before or you need help designing a garden space, there is a publication you can printout online for free from the University of Floridahttp://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_vegetable_gardening. The easiest way to access this guide is to just type into your browser ifas gardening guide. This will pull up the correct website. This guide will help you prepare a new garden and give you ideas of what varieties of vegetables to grow in your area.
If you plan on starting your garden from seed you should start picking out the varieties you are going to want to grow. Many people have been ordering heirloom seeds for the old fashioned varieties of vegetables. There are many websites available for you to pick out your heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are not genetically altered and if you like gardening organically or if you like the plants Grandma used to plant in her backyard garden, you will find many of the old fashioned varieties on these websites. Those of you that have already purchased seeds from the local garden center or if you have already purchased the heirloom seeds, you should start planting them in starter pots now.
To start your seeds you need some sterilized potting soil available at any local garden center and you will need seed starter pots. Starter pots are usually four inch pots made of peat which can be transferred directly into the garden when the plants are of sufficient size. Some people use plastic pots or old egg cartons to start their seeds. Just make sure you keep the plants moist as the smaller the container is the quicker the soil will dry out. I like to start my seeds in a windowsill or other sunny spot in the home. Starting plants in the home lessens the pest problems from outside and you can watch the plants as they grow. Do not forget to sow your herb seeds for the fall planting season. When the plants are large enough or you can see the roots on the bottom of the pot it is time to move them off of the windowsill and into the garden.
If you read the Gardening guide I referenced above you should know that gardens need full sun to grow the best vegetables and spices. If this is your first attempt at gardening in Floridathen I suggest you read the information I mentioned and prepare the garden with the proper amounts of peat, perlite, and vermiculite. The more organic material you can place in your garden the better your plants will do. Because our Florida native soils are made of mostly sand and weeds, the addition of organic material will help provide your vegetables garden the nutrients essential to proper plant growth. Organic material also helps to control the damaging number of nematodes we have in our soil. Nematodes are tiny microscopic roundworms which feed on the roots of our plants disrupting the flow of nutrients to the plant. When you have a good organic base for the garden, nematode numbers are greatly reduced.
One way I have found to increase the organic matter in our native soils is to use a product called Sweet Peet. Sweet Peet (www.sweetpeet.com) is a 100% organic product sold as mulch but when used in the garden it works wonders. I suggest at least four inches of Sweet Peet spread over the top of the garden. Sweet Peet helps to enrich the soil and encourage earthworms. If you have a small box garden use up to ten inches of this product and root your plants directly in it. Sweet Peet acts like a mulch, helping to retain water for the plants while at the same time adding additional nutrients to the soil. Sweet Peet also is sterilized so you don’t have to worry about nasty weeds either. At the end of the year when your fall garden has ended, I suggest this material be worked into the garden soil by turning or tilling.
Over the last few years more people have been starting backyard gardens to supplement their dinner table and offset their grocery bills. As prices for fresh fruit, vegetables, and spices continue to rise, I believe more people will recognize the benefit of growing their own food at home. Living in Florida gives us the ability of having multiple growing seasons per year. This brings me to my final points of where to plant your garden and what to plant in the garden.
While attending a conference last year I was re-introduced to the concept of edible landscapes with a twist, front yard gardening. Front yard gardening incorporates the use of fruit trees, vegetables, and spices in creating a beautifully balanced landscape in conjunction with your existing standard landscape plants. By bringing both edible and foliage plants together we gain color and texture in the garden and we can produce more food for the table. Because most landscaped areas do not have much organic matter, I suggest using at least four inches of Sweet Peet in the areas that you are going to plant your vegetable crops which will give them the start they need in our sandy soils.
Use your taller garden plants closer to the home. Snap beans on a small trellis with tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, and oregano can be intermingled with other landscape plants of similar heights. Summer squash, cucumbers, and sweet peppers can be planted in rows or rays depending on your current landscape plants. Garlic, chives, and watercress can be planted in front because they do not grow too tall. Lemon grass makes a nice border and is easily divided. Broccoli and Rhubarb can add eye appeal. Do not forget to use ornamental cabbages on borders as they can give great color to the garden.
Gardening is my passion and I hope you will love gardening as much as I do. With these few easy steps I have outlined above you will soon be on your way to a better or at least different garden. Be creative and do not be afraid to experiment with your own designs and personal preferences of garden vegetables. Never be discouraged if things do not work out the first year because as time goes on you will continually improve the soil of your garden by adding additional organic matter. There is no wrong way to enjoy gardening. Be happy and as always, remember, without plants, we would not be here.