South Florida Gardening

Fall Bed Prep

by , on
Jun 11, 2020
Garden bed covered in white plastic

As another regular growing season (ie, fall-winter-spring) is winding down, we are beginning our fall bed prep. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some lingering harvests to enjoy – chard, onions, kale, collards, cucumbers and carrots, bok choy, celery & celeriac, French sorrel, and a nice variety of herbs. (We get less sun than a typical South Florida vegetable garden, which extends our harvest in the late Spring.) We will also be enjoying a few heat tolerant crops throughout the summer – hot peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, bok choy (“joy choi” in the summer) and okra. We do not plant a large variety in the summer as we have found over the years that a)crop usage is minimal for the effort they take to grow and b)keeping up with the insects on new plantings in our summer climate is nearly impossible. It is so darn hot to be battling insects out there. And we don’t want to cultivate nonbeneficial pests waiting in the soil for our fall crops either! continue reading »

Mid-Growing Season

by , on
Feb 10, 2020
Head of green cabbage

January and early February mark the middle of our growing season here in South Florida. It is a time for assessment and planning as to what we want to grow into the Spring. Many of the crops we grow can be planted throughout the entire season. Others (such as cabbages and heirloom tomatoes) have a shorter window, i.e. the time for planting them is running out, especially if starting them from seed. continue reading »

Square Foot Gardening – We’re in Love!

by , on
May 22, 2019
Vegetable plantings in a square foot style garden bed

Several months ago I was exposed to the technique of square foot gardening, when an older edition of this book was loaned to me. Well, this approach seemed just plain weird – why bother planting everything all packed into little squares, what’s the point? And so many different things in one bed, kinda chaotically? And to bother doing the work to divide a bed up all precisely like that? Well, as they say, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it!” Now that we’ve tried it, we’ve fallen in love with it. No, not just a fly-by-night infatuation, this is true love! continue reading »

Preparing the Soil – Update

by , on
Feb 19, 2019

Last season I wrote a post explaining how we go about preparing the soil for planting which you can find here. Well…. this is a new season, with “more water under the bridge” – and new knowledge gained through experience, the advice of experts and our own research and reflections. Therefore I want to update last year’s post with what new ways we are preparing “soil” – or better said “growing media” – to start and grow our veggies. Don’t get me wrong – most of what I said last year still stands. Where we’ve significantly changed a practice that I touted back then, I will indicate it here and in that post as well. continue reading »

Seedling City – Where It All Begins

by , on
Nov 26, 2017

We’ve described how we prepare the soil in our beds for planting – now it’s time to discuss how we get our plants started. Because we are in South Florida, our prime time for cultivating seedlings is in the fall.

We basically have three methods for starting our plants in the garden:

  • Planting seeds in flats for transplanting seedlings later
  • Planting seeds directly into the garden beds to sprout there
  • Buying small starter plants to put directly into the beds

We definitely prefer to start our plants from seed, for a number of reasons. First, when you purchase seeds as opposed to starter plants, there’s a much greater variety to choose from. We also like cultivating them from their very beginnings in our own organic soil and supplements. And it’s much less expensive than buying plants. There is also the chance of introducing pests and/or diseases that are brought in on starter plants. Last but not least, who doesn’t love the hands-on experience and good feeling of engaging in a plant’s growth every step of the way?

The needs of plants vary, and some do better with one of the methods above over the others. For example, tomatoes need to be started in flats; beans need to be direct seeded into beds; and for most of our herbs we buy the starter plants.

For an idea about what particular plants we start in flats vs. direct seeding into beds, see our post Yesss!! Fall Planting, Part I. About half or more of our seedlings are started in flats, so here is some info and tips for using this method:

Planting seeds in flats for transplanting later

Our soil mixture is so vital to the success of the seedling. We have tried many different combinations, following advice of experts over the years, and based upon our experience, this is what we now use. Thoroughly mixed together:

  • 48% homemade compost
  • 48% peat
  • 4% worm castings (very potent & very expensive, so it’s used sparingly)
  • continue reading »

    How Do We Prepare the Soil for Planting?

    by , on
    Oct 29, 2017
    soil in bed

    Not exactly an exciting or pretty picture right? But it’s just perfect, because this is how much of our garden looks as we prepare the soil for the coming season. It is a serious endeavor, as we have learned from experience that a successful garden is more dependent than anything upon having really good soil. Not only does it support the growth of our plants, but determines their nutritional value as well. And, good soil is a pest deterrent, because poor soil produces weak plants that are more vulnerable to pests and actually attract them. Also, the beneficial microbes in good soil help to prevent plant disease.

    Fall is our “spring” when it comes to planting here in South Florida. Our growing season starts in the fall and runs through the spring, which is the opposite of most regions in the U.S. For the first few years that we had this garden, we had wonderfully rich organic soil that we were able to obtain at a steep discount. To “prepare the soil” meant opening the bags and dumping them in the beds, and voila! – our plants would thrive! But when we lost our source, we had to learn how to create the best soil environment for our plantings on our own. It has been a process – one that we improve upon each year, and continue to learn from.

    There are many steps we take to prepare the soil for planting our new crops each year.

    I. Before the fall season:

  • A truckload of finely ground tree mulch is ordered at least six months in advance so that it can break down into composted soil in time for fall planting.
  • Seeds are planted for our cover crops in many of the beds (see post: Summer Cover Crops) in late spring/early summer, after completing our harvest. As the plants mature (in a few months), we cut them down and turn them into the soil for decomposition.
  • We get as much of our own homemade kitchen-scrap compost going as possible, in bins at our community garden and at home (see post: Compost It!).
  • continue reading »

    It’s Time to Order our Fall Seeds!

    by , on
    Sep 3, 2017
    Packets of seeds

    Fall is a very exciting time for us as we begin our new planting season. Buying seeds is of course one of the most important tasks we undertake, and the process has been refined over the years. We have many beds to fill, many tastes to please, and our South Florida weather and conditions to take into account. No, we cannot grow Brussels sprouts and asparagus here (though I have to confess we’ve tried!). But we can grow so many varied crops that it was hard to know where to begin when we first started gardening. Now it’s become kind of routine – we have our favorite seed companies and we pretty much know what we can and would like to plant.

    For a listing of what exactly we plant in the fall, see this chart: SEED INVENTORY – FALL 2017

    So, how do we go about this process?

  • First, a yearly survey is sent out each summer (via Survey Monkey) to all our members so they can voice their preferences regarding crops. The data is compiled so we know what was popular or not the previous year, and also what new crops members suggest that we try out. We also consider the past season’s harvesting habits, i.e. what crops were actually used the most or the least. It’s interesting how this trend can change each season. Sample survey appears below.
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    Compost It!

    by , on
    Aug 27, 2017
    Compost pile

    Compost is one of the main keys to a healthy, thriving organic garden. We used to be able to buy some really incredible ready-made organic soil, but no more. So a few years back, we set out to learn how to create our own, and found how essential it was to produce a steady supply of compost! Our two main resources, where we learned the most, was (my gardening bible!) How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons, and the University of Florida’s Agricultural Extension’s resources, especially this article: Compost Tips for the Home Gardener. We learned that composting isn’t about constantly throwing your scraps into a pile whenever you had some; it is a careful layering technique in a designated area with specific dimensions and scheduled maintenance. We had a lot to learn, but now that we’ve got the hang of it, we enjoy the whole routine (although the saved-up kitchen scraps can be nasty!) and especially using the compost to enrich our vegetable garden – nothing like that rich, dark compost that we know is chock full of nutrients!

    Creating the compost for our garden is a group endeavor. Members save and bring in their kitchen scraps, and in addition we have ongoing support from a facility’s kitchen nearby that saves us their fruit and veggie scraps, which is a big help. Free dried manure is accessible through one of our member’s chicken farm. We also have the benefit of the weeds and plants that are pulled after harvesting is done, stored right on our property to use for compost when we need it. Members also bring in bags of brown leaves they’ve raked up at home. So we’re really lucky to have all the ingredients we need readily available for composting!

    While we carry on our composting routinely year round, we do amp up production during the summer in order to prepare nutrient-rich soil for fall plantings. Creating composted soil correctly is a methodical, multi-step process:

  • Choosing a good spot – shady, with air flow, and a minimum of 3 ft by 3 ft. We make ours on the ground; compost containers and built structures can be used as well (see Jeavons’ book).
  • It starts with saving kitchen scraps until we have enough to start (or add another layer to) a pile. This includes fruit and vegetable scraps (including citrus) and eggshells. We refrain from adding large amounts of seeds to avoid a mini-garden sprouting in our compost pile. No meat, fish or dairy products go in the compost.
  • Gathering your other materials to build the compost layers: small twigs and brown (decaying) leaves, harvested weeds (not seeded) and green harvested plant scraps, dried manure, and soil.
  • Build your layers, and water each one as you go:
    • Brown: twigs and leaves
    • Green: manure, green plant parts & weeds, kitchen scraps
    • Soil
    • continue reading »

  • Summer Cover Crops

    by , on
    Aug 6, 2017
    Japanese Millet Cover Crop

    In South Florida our “off-season” is June thru September as the summer months are too hot and humid for most plants to thrive. So for us, this is mainly soil preparation time! After completing the harvesting of our Spring plantings, we allow the soil to rest for a few weeks and then begin planting our cover crops. Of course, we research and plan ahead during the Spring so we have our seeds ready.

    Cover crops are any of a wide variety of plants which are planted in the off-season in order to enrich the soil for the coming new growing season. There are many functions that cover crops perform:

  • Most cover crops will fix nitrogen (necessary for green growth) into the soil through their roots. Legumes (beans) are especially good at fixing nitrogen.
  • Cover crops provide valuable nutrients to the soil when the mature plants are pulled up, worked into the soil, and allowed to decompose there. This creates what is called green manure.
  • Cover crops provide natural weed control as they will typically grow fast and choke out most weeds.
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    Making Your Own Natural Pest Deterrents

    by , on
    Jun 18, 2017
    natural pest deterrents essential oils

    Make your own natural pest deterrents to keep your garden free of aphids, mosquitoes, snails, and other harmful insects and animals.

    Natural Pest Deterrent #1

    Mix 1/4 cup of Murphy’s Oil Soap per gallon of water to kill and deter whiteflies, mites, aphids, scale and other nuisance pests. Apply with a spray bottle to both top and bottom of affected leaves and stems when sun is not shining brightly.

    Natural Pest Deterrent #2

    Mix together 1 teaspoon dish washing liquid, 1 cup of vegetable oil and 1 cup of rubbing alcohol. Add 2 teaspoons of this mixture to 1 cup of water and apply as for #1 above.

    Safe Mosquito Repellent

    Mosquitoes are very sensitive to certain scents, especially Chamomile and Eucalyptus. Both are easy to grow and both are used in dry flower arrangements and potpourri. To make mosquito repellent, take one ounce of green leaves from both plants and boil in a gallon of water, then strain the mixture and place it in the refrigerator. Before going outside, splash the mixture over your face and exposed parts of your body. You will enjoy the fresh, citrus smell and the mosquitoes will stay far away.

    Snail Deterrent

    If you are having a problem with snails or slugs, place crushed egg shells or course sand around the base of plants. Snails don’t like crawling over the sharp edges, and egg shells are good for the soil!

    Essential Oils

    These pure extracts make great natural pest deterrents, but they are very potent and should be diluted and used sparingly. Use with caution and avoid direct contact with skin, eyes and mucous membranes! Remember, if a little works well it doesn’t mean that more will work better! Use these oils for making tinctures, teas, cosmetics, massage oils, bath oils and salts, potpourri, candles, incense etc. Place a few drops on a cotton ball and put in cupboards to repel insects.

    Eucalyptus Oil: E. citriodora repels mites, fleas, mosquitoes and other insects from humans and pets.
    Tea Tree Oil: Apply tea tree oil directly to the skin to stimulate healing and fight bacterial and fungal infections. For sensitive skin, you may want to dilute it with olive oil. Used to treat nail fungus, burns, bites, athlete’s Foot, acne, dandruff, use in wash water for household cleaning, add to shampoo and make a spray to repel insects.
    Lavender Oil: Use in closets and storage areas to repel moths and other pests. Add to massage oil and baths to relieve aches, use for aromatherapy, soaps, candles, potpourri etc.
    Peppermint Oil: Repels aphids (use with thyme oil) in ponds with or without fish. Safe for making tinctures, teas, cosmetics, etc.
    Lemon Oil: Use in flea shampoo, insect repellent spray, keep away animals and other pests. Safe for making tinctures, teas, cosmetics, etc.
    Cedarwood Oil: use around the home to repel moths.
    Citronella Oil: use to repel insects and ticks from humans, their clothing, indoors and out. Use on ornamental plants, in trash bins to repel animals.
    Jojoba Oil: Use on all plants to kill and repel whiteflies, powdery mildew.
    Lemongrass Oil: Use on ornamental plants and garbage areas to keep out dog, cats, other animals.
    Wintergreen Oil: Ornamental plants, indoor and outdoor areas, garbage containers to repel insects and animals. Note: TOXIC in large quantities.

    Thyme Oil: continue reading »