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