Victory Gardens Keep Families Fed! That’s something that might have been heard during the World Wars of the earlier part of the 1900s. But I’m here, bringing it back – because Victory Gardens are as relevant today as they ever were.
We are in a time of fear and uncertainty, to be sure. And the mainstream media is not helping…they’re making more money than ever preying on your fears and insecurities while raking in advertising dollars and paying out BIG bonuses to Execs…oh, wait, that soapbox is for another day. I digress.
This COVID-19 pandemic burst our “first world” security bubble and caused us all to re-evaluate what is truly necessary in our lives, and really look at what we often take for granted: the availability of food.
We hear in the news that farmers are dumping thousands of pounds and gallons of food in the fields because it’s going to waste from the decrease in business of restaurant purchases and more. It surprised even me to learn that dairy farmers (which my family owned a dairy, back in the day) are dumping milk by the truckload, but when I go to the store the milk shelves are empty.
It’s time to take a good look at our food distribution, and what we, as individuals, can do to make it easier for ourselves when a crisis happens. Many areas do not benefit from access to fresh fruits and vegetables at all those areas are called “food deserts” and they are a real problem in the urban areas of the US and it was happening WAY before this pandemic.
One thing I can tell you, living in a hurricane-afflicted state, is that being prepared is everything. And we CAN prepare for what amounts to an agricultural collapse – and a collapse of the food system in general – by being PROACTIVE and growing our own. Providing for our families and putting food on the table in a physical way.
Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about Victory Gardens, the 2.0 version. I’m talking about fresh greens that you snip from your back yard and bring in to wash up for dinner. I’m talking about picking turnips and onions and cabbage and making soup for dinner. Fresh tomatoes, lettuce, radish, and bell peppers for a salad.
It’s not a fantasy. It can be yours, with a little extra and consistent effort.
You don’t even need a yard – there’s this cool thing called the EarthBOX! That’s a story for another day (or for a class! Stay tuned for that announcement soon!). I’ll show you a picture:
Now, I don’t consider myself a “prepper”, like you see on these “reality TV” shows. I think I’m just pragmatic. And I remember how my Dad survived on what he grew and how he bartered fresh veggies for meat, and went fishing and sold fishing worms to feed himself.
I want to know that I can survive on what I can produce myself. And I can. Can you? If not, well, right now we’re all stuck at home with power and internet…so why not learn more about gardening? Or maybe you want to raise chickens? Learn about that! So much better than watching the news.
At Shell’s we’ve always advocated for knowledge of how to grow food – whether it be vegetable or animal – and we’re always up for helping people learn.
We have classes and events specifically for the purpose of education; check out our Calendar of Events(which will be pretty empty until this pandemic has passed! But if you’re reading this AFTER Coronavirus is “over” then you can definitely use this link).
We also have a private Facebook group where people can ask questions about gardening (and even the occasional chicken question!).
We scan the local groups answering questions and pointing out useful products that we carry – hopefully unobtrusively, and always in the name of education.
This willingness to share in the knowledge library that is contained in the minds of our senior staff is why I personally think we will be celebrating our 60th year next year. Our sense of obligation to foster a community of gardeners and urban farmers is one of our greatest strengths as an organization.
Additionally, I believe that one of Tampa’s greatest assets is that when times get rough – we pull together as a giant city-wide team and help each other. #TampaStrong.
So…have I planted the seed of curiosity for anyone considering growing your own food? Do you have questions about Victory Gardens? Contact us today – leave a comment here, or join our private Facebook Group – Shell’s Garden Community – and let’s chat.
I look forward to sharing knowledge…and our community of gardeners has lots to share too!
The world is a different place today than it was about a month ago.
We are encouraged to stay home and self-isolate. Kids are not in school. Parents may not be working. Having everyone home 24/7 can be really stressful!
One way to cope is to have fun projects to do. I’ve got some good ones to share with you that are cheap, easy, and many of you already have these things on hand.
Sparkling Garden Jars
You can add some visual interest to your garden with Sparkling Garden Jars! Many crafty people already have this stuff lying around…if not, you can easily get them at a Dollar store or craft store. (Can’t go out? Use a service like Postmates to run and get it for you, or order online and have it shipped.)
A Glass jar, or a glass – make sure they’re not anything you mind altering permanently – I highly recommend having several glasses, jars, etc to make a display.
Glass floral filler stones in whatever colors you like – they have a rounded top and a flat bottom, they’re often called Glass Gems and come in LOTS of different colors.
Adhesive: examples: E6000, Gorilla Glue, or a Hot Glue Gun with extra strong or jeweler’s glue, or clear caulk like you would use for windows – anything that will adhere to glass and dry clear
Wooden stake(s), or sturdy stick(s) of different heights (suggestion)
OPTIONAL: Other fun see-through small items like beads that won’t melt with a hot glue gun, or shiny plastic jewels if you’re using cold glue (like the “bedazzle” jewels).
Clean your glass/jar out, and remove any oils that might be on the outside.
On a protected surface, turn your glass/jar upside down.
Plan out a pattern for your glass gems and/or other decorations on a flat surface to make it easier to transfer onto the glass/jar. You can use a soft sewing tape measure to measure the circumference and height of the glass/jar so that you know how big your design can be.
Glass Gem Pattern Example:
Prepare your chosen adhesive.
Starting at the lip of the glass (which is at the bottom right now because the glass/jar is upside down), use glue to adhere the decorations onto the glass one at a time. ***If you want to use the lid of the jar later to mount the jar somewhere do NOT glue anything to the jar’s lid threads.*** I recommend covering the lip/bottom first and then continue up the sides, covering the bottom of the glass/jar (which is the “top” now) last.
While that sets, you can take your stake(s) or stick(s) and find a place in the garden to insert it/them into the ground. You’ll want the top of the stick to be above the other plants you’re growing in that area so the jar will be visible.
When your glass/jar is dry, go to the garden and place it onto the stick so that the stick is inside the glass/jar. The jars might move around, and that’s ok, they won’t fall off the stick because of their weight.
You can make multiples of these jars, with different shaped glasses/jars, different colors and patterns, and mounted at different heights, for maximum effect when they are clustered together. I find that odd numbers work best in groups like this.
When the sun hits the decorations, they will shine bright!
Another Glass Gem Pattern Example:
Additional idea: You can use pennies instead of glass pebbles. Shine up the pennies using either silverware polish OR use tomato paste and let the pennies soak in it for about a half hour or so. Use a toothbrush to scrub them clean and the patina color of older pennies should come right off and be shiny copper again! (acid from the tomatoes removes the patina).
Additional idea: You can use these as lights! The project from The Empress of Dirt shows you how (link at the end of this section). You’ll have to use jars with lids and get some solar tealights that fit inside the jars. Decorate as above. Then mount the lid to a fencepost or other structure you choose upside down (the screw lid threads are facing upward). Put the solar tealight onto the lid. Place the jar threads into the lid and twist to close the jar. Great for lighting pathways and fencelines!
Additional idea: Use leftover glass gems and spread them in a shallow dish, like a terra cotta plant drip catcher. Fill the dish with water so that the tops of the stones are NOT underwater. Set this dish out on a flat surface near your flowers. This allows bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to land, rest and take a drink. Make sure you clean and refill daily.
Please note: This project was inspired by The Empress of Dirt, she has wonderful projects: https://empressofdirt.net/gardentreasurejars/ . I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures to show you of my version – this project was something I helped someone else do when I was much younger and they are no longer around!
Super Easy Bird Feeder
Clean and empty tin can(s), label removed
Wood dowels or sticks, about 8-12″ long
Paint and brushes – acrylic is ok
Modge Podge Outdoor (optional)
Ribbon or Twine
Hot Glue Gun and glue.
Peanut butter (optional)
Make sure your tin can is clean and dry.
Using your paint and brushes, paint the outside of your tin can with whatever kind of design (or just a single color) that you want. Let it dry.
Paint a coat of Modge Podge Outdoor over the paint, let it dry. This step is optional, it allows the paint to last longer against the elements. You can choose to not do this step, and instead, re-paint your tin cans more frequently, changing up the look for the seasons, etc. How cute would that be?
Hot glue your dowel or stick to the inside of your tin can so that the stick is adhered along the inside of the can from the bottom to the opening. This is going to be your feathered friends’ perch when the can is hanging from the ribbon/twine.
Next, take a 3-4 foot length of ribbon or twine and fold it at the halfway point to make the loop shown in square 1 below. Make a larkshead knot around the can using the diagram below.
I recommend a Larkshead knot for stability and easy removal.
Next, fill the can about halfway with a seed mix (or a ball of seed mixed with peanut butter if you wish).
When you pick up your can by the ribbon or twine, your tin can should rest sideways and level with your stick/dowel pointing straight out at the bottom of the can, parallel with flat ground. If the can tilts upward, rain and other things will get caught in the can and accumulate; if it tilts downward, the birds will be unsteady and the seed will fall out.
If your can can’t stabilize, consider using a piece of ribbon or twine at the opening and near the base of the can tied in larkshead knots around the can to stabilize it. And of course if larkshead is not working for you, use a standard overhead knot.
Once your ribbon/twine is in the position where the can hangs level, use a little glue to hold it in place so it doesn’t shift with the wind or with bird landings/take offs.
Using the two free ends of the twine or ribbon, you can tie them together with an overhead knot and then hang the can with the seeds from a tree branch, shrub, a shepherd’s hook, or a plant hook. It’s extra special if you can place it near a window where you can watch the birds find it and eat.
Another idea – you can make a feeder stack! Just hot glue the tin cans together top side to bottom side so that your sticks are at the bottom of each can when the cans are on their sides. Sweet, right?
Easy “Hydroponic” Planter
Do you like to recycle? How about upcycle? This project is all about it! While technically not a hydroponic setup, it is indeed a sub-irrigated system, which means it’s watered from the bottom using the wicking properties of cotton and soil.
Plastic 2 liter bottle with cap, label removed
Scissors or box cutter
Cotton twine that is the same length as the bottle is tall.
Starter Plants or seeds
Drill with small bit (about the width of your cotton twine)
First, mark the 2 liter bottle about half- way up from the bottom around the outside. Cut around the bottle at that marking to separate the top from the bottom using the scissors or boxcutter.
Clean the bottle inside and out.
Take the cap off of the top of the bottle. Place it on a surface where drilling won’t harm anything, like a woodworking table, or clamp it in a vice. Using the drill, drill a hole in the center of the cap.
String your cotton twine through the cap. Screw the cap back onto the bottle so that part of the twine is “inside” and the other part is “outside” and set aside.
Take the bottom of your 2 liter bottle and fill it with water about a quarter full. Set it on a protected surface.
Flip the top third of the two liter bottle so that the cap is facing downward and the opening upward. Place it into the bottom piece so that the string dangles in the water, and the cap is closest to the water. This makes a reservoir for planting a plant at the top of your Hydroponic setup. Adjust your string so that the string has an inch or two touching the bottom of the water reservoir and has plenty of string still above the cap.
Next, use potting mix to fill up the portion above the cap, making sure that the string is layered in the dirt. I like to circle the string around where I’m going to plant my plant, maybe an inch or so in from the outer wall of the bottle. Push your soil down to firm it, but not too hard, just enough to make sure the dirt will wick water up from the bottom.
Once you have your potting mix in, make room for your starter plant or seeds in the center, and plant them in the that bottle top inside the string circle you made. If you need more dirt, add it now, until the dirt level is about an inch or so from the top opening.
Add a tiny bit of water to get your starter plant or seeds started (you don’t need much!). Any amount of water needed after that will be drawn up through the cotton twine “wick” from the water reservoir.
To refill the reservoir, lift out the portion of the bottle with the soil in it, and refill the bottom reservoir. This makes it easy to clean out the water reservoir as well, as occasionally it will need it.
This setup will maximize your room to grow herbs while making sure they get the right amount of water. You can’t over or under water…just keep the reservoir full and you’re good to go! You can make one of these for each herb you want to grow.
You can also use smaller plastic bottle to start seeds in using this same method (like the 16 ounce soda or water bottles). What a great way to recycle and reuse!!
And don’t think you can’t expand to other types of plants too using soda or water bottles! Here’s some cute succulent pots (shown below) that you can make with smaller bottles – for succulents make sure you put some pebbles in the bottom and use cactus soil mix! OK, these don’t have the sub-irrigation setup, but they’re a great way to recycle plastic!
Another idea for recycling bottles – a vertical garden!
Here’s another use for a plastic bottle – a hanging garden! Great for a window display, or to string together a bunch along a fenceline.
I hope I’ve given you some fun ideas for the garden using things you probably already have lying around the house.
Stay safe, don’t panic, we’ll make it through this as a community as long as we help each other.
P.S. Do you want some more fun projects? Why not look at my article about DIY Garden Markers? Has lots of great ways to label those containers and garden beds so you know what you planted. Take a look:
Are you having a hard time figuring out how to approach Spring Gardening in our sometimes unforgiving Florida climate?
We are very fortunate to have the warmth that we do, with limited cold snaps, and usually plenty of rain.
But for people who learned to garden where there are climate-based seasons, or who have learned through resources meant for places with actual seasons, it can be so difficult to navigate when to garden in Florida.
And that’s where your local neighborhood Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply can help you.
We’ve been gardening here a long time. Our store has been serving the Tampa Bay area since 1961. Back then we were surrounded by farms growing crops and raising livestock. As those farms have been eaten up by the city, we’ve turned our focus on to growing your own backyard vegetables for your family, and to urban farming.
So, with a base guidance from the UF IFAS program, along with our personal experiences gardening in Central Florida, we’ve got a lot to offer to those who are figuring out planting seasons, like Spring, here in Florida.
Sure, we’ve got a class for that! I hope you’ll join me for that – this class is part 3 of a 4 part series that I’ve been putting together seasonally. We started in Fall 2019, then we had a Winter Class, now this is the Spring class. Of course, there will be a Summer class as well.
In the meantime, though, I’ve got a couple of tips for you right here to get started.
Forget about the First Day of Spring
If you’re waiting until the Spring Equinox to start thinking about planting because that’s what your favorite gardening magazine told you to do, I have sad news for you. In Florida you’re WAY too late for many crops.
By the time the Equinox rolls around, it’s already blistering hot outside, and our wet season will be starting soon, which means your tiny seedlings will be more susceptible to fungus, and heat withering.
In Florida, you can start planting seeds in January (or even mid/late December!) for Spring. Yes, I said December. And January.
Also, our strong and healthy Starter Plants arrive usually right around February 1st at our store – and we plan it that way for a reason. Starter Plants can go in the ground starting in February. You can also plant lots of different kinds of seeds in February.
Is there risk of frost this early in the year? Sure. Some years we get a late nip in the air. But there’s ways to make sure that your seedlings survive, and we can tell you all about how to make sure you’re protected. All you have to do is ask.
Container Plantings are a sensible option for Florida Spring Gardening
We’re here to support you in however you want to grow your veggies, or flowers, or trees, or whatever you’ve got going on. Many people choose to plant in the ground, and that’s totally great!
If you’re planting native plants, you really don’t have to do anything to the soil, they’ll be just fine with what you’ve got.
Ground plantings, like raised beds, or mounds, for things that are not native to Florida take some extra special care in the form of soil amendments and fertilizers. This is because we’re trying to force plants that aren’t used to our sandy soil to grow where they don’t really belong. So, we have to amend the soil and add the nutrients that our soil is missing for them to flourish. With a little prep ahead of time. this is definitely do-able.
BUT…you can better control your plantings using containers. You can mix your own soil, add your own nutrients, protect your plants from soil-borne illnesses, and control their sun, water, and climate, when they are in a container.
As far as containers go, you probably know that we’re Tampa’s Earthbox Authority, and we’re HUGE fans of what the Earthbox can do for the things you want to grow, like vegetables and flowers.
Earthbox makes it SO EASY to grow your own. In fact, we want you to experience the joys of Earthbox so much that we have a class for that!
There are also all manner of sizes of black plastic reusable nursery tubs, galvanized and rubber stock tanks, and all kinds of container planting options available at our store too.
We can show you what you need for all these, and you’ll have great results.
Your Spring Options Are Nearly Limitless Here
Spring Gardening in Florida, starting in January, really allows you nearly limitless possibilities on what you can grow. You can still plant cold-weather crops – it’s still cool enough for lettuces and collards and kale, for example, and you can plant warm weather crops like peppers, tomatoes, okra, and beans too.
Spring planting time is when you can plant and enjoy the most diverse gardens here. So, take advantage of our good fortune. Try some new veggies and flowers. Get creative with containers and raised beds.
We’re here to help you. We can answer questions and give you advice if you run into a problem. That’s what we’re here for.
January is the time of Resolutions, and many of those resolutions we make each year focus on health. How about making a resolution you can stick with and enjoy for just a few minutes a day that has a ton of health benefits for you?
Does that sound too good to be true? It’s not.
There is an activity you can do just a few minutes a day and reap a BUNCH of health benefits. That activity is GARDENING!
Today I’m going to list out some of the many health benefits of gardening. To get you even more motivated – and to make sure you don’t think I’m full of compost, I’ll give you extra articles to read that corroborate what I’m telling you here – yes that’s right – SCIENCE!
Starting right here: For a HUGE comprehensive list of the health issues that Gardening can help, listed out in a peer-reviewed medical journal, check out this research article (a meta-analysis) here – it’s really exciting!!
#1: Cardiovascular Health
Regular light activity/exertion like gardening decreases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, and in a way that doesn’t feel like mindless “pointless” exercise (like a treadmill – running nowhere!). Read more about Gardening for Cardiovascular Health here.
#2 Decreasing Stress
One of the markers of Stress in our bodies is the levels of Cortisol found in our blood. A Dutch study tested people’s blood Cortisol levels just after doing a really stressful task, and again after those people spent 30 minutes gardening. Those that did the gardening had lower levels of the Cortisol stress hormone in their blood than those that didn’t garden. The article from the Journal of Health Psychology is here.
Excess Cortisol for extended periods of time – which is an epidemic in the Western World – carries a huge health risk. It causes weight gain, blood sugar imbalances, and cardiovascular issues, amongst other things. Any way that Cortisol can be decreased in our systems is better for us.
#3 Happiness Is Found In Dirt
It sounds like a silly statement, but research has found that there is a bacterium in soil and forested areas that causes an increase in serotonin – one of the “feel good” brain chemicals that is associated with feeling happy and satisfied and rewarded for doing something good.
That bacterium is called Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae) has been shown to naturally decrease anxiety and increase serotonin. We have access to this lovely little creature any time we dig our hands into healthy soil – so get dirty! It’s good for you!
Want to read more? Discover Magazine (a science publication) has an article here. Also, more information about the bacterium itself can be found here (with source articles).
#4 Better Sleep
Light activity, as well as fresh air and sunshine, has been shown to increase the ability to sleep at night. Sleep is not something to be overlooked when it comes to your health – that is the time that the body heals and repairs itself. Not getting enough sleep means that your body cannot recover from the things that happened earlier in the day.
Gardening is the perfect blend of activity, fresh air, and sunshine! Even just a few minutes a day can help. Here’s more information from the University of Pennsylvania.
#5 Stay Strong
Exercise in the garden strengthens the body, especially the hands and arms. Gardening is an activity that can and should be done throughout your lifetime to maintain mobility, dexterity, coordination and more of your hands and fingers for as long as possible.
Even as we age, it is beneficial to keep gardening, even if we have to make some adjustments for ailments like arthritis. To find out more about this, check out this article from the West Virginia University’s Center for Excellence in Disabilities article about Gardening with Arthritis.
#6 Long-term Health Benefits for Children
It’s been found that early exposure to dirt in children has been linked to many health benefits, including reducing allergies, auto-immune diseases, and overall body inflammation when they get older. Some information from WebMD on this topic can be found here.
Also, when you are gardening with your children, you have an opportunity to bond and foster life-long special relationships and create memories to share with all your loved ones.
As a side-note here: Gardening with my father when I was a child is the main reason I garden today – those memories come back to me when I’m digging in the dirt, and it’s pleasant to remember him this way now that he has passed on.
#7 Financial Health
When we worry about money, that stress dumps Cortisol into our bloodstream (see #2 above). When you grow your own vegetables and herbs, you can save a ton of money and decrease the stress of buying food – affording more healthy eating and living too.
We all know organic food is expensive – but if you can grow your own, you not only save the money at the grocery or market, you save the time it took to drive there and the money you spend on gasoline too. And things like looseleaf lettuce can be harvested over and over again – saving you even more money!
This seems like a stretch – I know – but hear me out here.
Successful gardening takes work, and quite a bit of skill that you can easily learn. So, after tilling, planting, weeding, nurturing, waters, and harvesting from your plants, you might see the “blackthumb” that you used to know disappear to make way for that new “greenthumb” badge of honor that you’ve earned.
That kind of accomplishment can change how you view yourself, and sharing your knowledge as well as the bounty of beautiful things you’ve grown changes the way others see you as well. One of the things that makes us uniquely human is the desire to successfully contribute our skills for the betterment of a community of our peers. There’s a great peer-reviewed article about this here.
If you can grow a garden, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!
So, these are just a few examples of the health benefits of gardening. Are you new to gardening? Are you experienced? There’s always new things to learn and experiment with in the garden. Let’s try something new together! Come see us – it’s time to plant seeds for Spring – we’ll get you started quick!
In honor of the City of Tampa fertilizer ban ending this week, I thought it might be fun to answer one of our most asked questions:
“What fertilizers am I supposed use in my garden, and how do I know which ones are needed for each plant?”
Gosh, this is a fun one – and we get asked questions similar to this all the time. So, I’m ready to dive in to decoding fertilizers today.
The first thing I think you need to know about fertilizers is what the 3 numbers on the front of the container mean. These numbers indicate the amounts of the Macronutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in the formula.
Often called the “N-P-K”, which stands for “Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium,” this fertilizer indicator shows you two things: 1) The ratios of nutrients relative to each other; and 2) How many pounds of this product you would need to add 1 pound of that nutrient to the soil.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Ratios
The N-P-K numbers give you what is called “guaranteed analysis” that shows the amounts of the macro nutrients in each bag. It sets the standard for the contents of each bag.
For the ratios, a 10-10-10, or 3-3-3, will have the same exact amounts of all 3 nutrients throughout the entire bag. A 12-6-8, or 6-4-6, will have different amounts of nutrients throughout the entire bag. Higher numbers mean more of that nutrient was added to that formulation, in relation to the relative amounts of the other nutrients.
Since all these different formulations exist, it stands to reason that different ratios of nutrients are good for different plants. In fact, specialty ratios have been developed for certain types of plants. This is why you see specialty fertilizers such as Rose, Azalea, Palm, Citrus, Strawberry, Blueberry, and more.
These special formulations have been shown to increase the growth and production of these specific plants because of the ratios of the three main nutrients. It is based on how those plants assimilate nutrients, how they use them, and observational studies of which nutrients give the maximum amount of the desired result. Yep. it’s science.
Often, these specialty fertilizers will also have additional ingredients too, like micronutrients, humates, mycorrhyzae, etc – check out the back of the bag to see what goodies are in there for those special types of plants.
Alright, up next, it’s time for some math. Ugh, adulting is hard.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Weight
Now, speaking about the second characteristic of the N-P-K rating, the amount to apply to reach 1 pound of that nutrient in the soil, we need to do a little math.
Here’s a simple example: Shell’s 10-10-10 N-P-K fertilizer indicates that you will need 10 pounds of the fertilizer to add 1 pound of each of the nutrients into the soil. You do this math by taking 100 (indicating 100%) and dividing it by 10.
100 / 10 = 10 lbs of fertilizer is needed to yield 1 pound of nutrient applied to soil.
If the N-P-K numbers are all different, like our Shell’s 4-6-8 Citrus Fertilizer, then you’d take each of those numbers and divide them into 100. Your answers will tell you how many pounds of that fertilizer you’d need to put 1 pound of that nutrient into the soil, like this:
So basically the N-P-K numbers are “weights” in a ratio format. Basically the higher the number, the LESS fertilizer you need to achieve the same result.
I know, it’s a little confusing sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with the N-P-K’s with different values for each nutrient.
What Nitrogen Does for Plants
Nitrogen is essential for healthy plant growth. It is an essential component in the process of photosynthesis, and as such it is needed to grow leaves and the stems to support them.
Plants with not enough nitrogen will show yellowing leaves that fall off easily. Plants with too much nitrogen will have leaves that yellow then brown and become “crispy” as the whole plant shrivels and dies (nitrogen burn). So nitrogen has to be in the right balance to help plants.
What Phosphorus Does for Plants
Phosphorus helps plants convert nutrients taken in by the roots and converting them into building block for the plants in their growth process – for example, making proteins that keep stems strong. Phosphorus is essential for root development.
Plants with not enough Phosphorus will have a classic “failure to thrive” identity – they will be small, and will have difficulty flowering or fruiting. Their root systems will be under-developed. They may have either a very bright green or a purple hue to them – these are both signs of Phosphorus deficiency.
What Potassium Does for Plants
Even in modern science today, the specific interactions of Potassium with plants remains a mystery. That said, we know what happens with plants when they don’t have enough, so we can extrapolate from that.
Potassium increases the rate of growth of the whole plant. It makes them use water more efficiently and makes them more drought resistant. With the correct amount of potassium plants are able to fight off disease and pests. They also produce more flowers, and fruits.
Potassium deficiency is hard to spot, but sometimes in the older leaves there will be brown spots, yellow edges of the leaves, yellow or brown veins. Overall the plant will not perform well.
How Do I Know If My Soil Has What My Plants Need?
Well, that’s pretty simple, really. Soil can be tested!
There are soil test kits – we carry them. There is also your local UF Extension office – they can test your soil for you, and if you need further testing, they have resources where you can have a more full analysis of your soil done for you.
If you’re serious about finding out a full analysis of your soil with a full report of what you can do to make it ideal, there are private and/or commercial facilities that will take your soil and test it with full reports.
I found a small list of providers at Fine Gardening’s website, edited to remove links that no longer work.
Woods End Research Laboratory PO Box 297, Mt. Vernon, ME 04352; 207-293-2457 www.woodsend.com
I definitely suggest starting with the local Extension service. They’re there to help!
Diagram of Plants and How Macronutrients Help Them
Side by Side Comparison of Nutrient Deficiencies
What Do I Use For My Vegetable Garden?
Now that you know all of this great information, the choice should be easy.
A well balanced fertilizer is great for your vegetables and herbs to help promote growth of the whole plant. Formulas like Shell’s 6-6-6, 8-8-8, and 10-10-10 are great for gardens. If you love the idea of organic food growing, Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Garden Mix Fertilizer is AMAZING for gardens, lawns, landscapes, ornamentals…really anything you want to grow.
For your trees, ornamentals and specialty plants, there are a wide variety of specialty fertilizers available for them. Ask us when you get to the store and we’ll point you in the right direction.
I will say that it is very beneficial to have your soil tested for the Macronutrients. Your soil may not need fertilizer, and adding more would contribute to leaching of these nutrients in the the ground water and our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. When we add too much nitrogen, our porous soil allows the nitrogen to leach out, adding lots of nitrogen to our water table and our ocean. Then algae get a growth boost, and we have what’s called “red tide.”
“It’s like the old adage – too much of a good thing can be bad.”
The fertilizer ban legislation happened because of humans using too much chemical fertilizer in the environment and not planting plants that are native to Florida which tolerate the “challenging” soil we have here. Our soil is just fine for Florida native and naturalized plants – we only find it challenging because we try to grow things that normally wouldn’t grow here, and chemically force them to survive.
Compost, clean dry leaf litter, pine bark or needles, straw/hay, old mulch, and wood chips are all great organic matter to add to your soil. As it decomposes over time, all of the NPK nutrients in that plant matter is eaten by the critters and microbes in the soil. The Nitrogens, Phosphorus, and Potassium in those materials are thus made available to the plants that are growing now.
It takes time, but amending with organic material is the best long term way to ensure that your soil has plenty of N-P-K and other nutrients for your plants. And…organic materials can be collected from your yard either for free, or it’s kitchen scraps and other waste that would have gone to the landfill…which you can collect and compost yourself.
I hope this fertilizer tutorial was helpful to you! Let me know if you have any questions.
If you’ve been to our store, you know that in our garden amendments section we have LOTS of bags and bottles of stuff with funny names, maybe even funny smells, and not a lot of information written on them. I call it the “Garden Aisle of Mystery,” even in my own store.
I know that this section of our store, or any garden store really, can be kind of intimidating, and I want to fix that! So, I’m writing this series as a reference for you. This is the very first of a “mostly monthly” series I want to do to help you figure out what you might need for your lawn, landscape, and/or garden.
So, I’m going to go “mostly alphabetical” as I name and describe a few items per Episode. As I move forward I will probably do some video snippets to embed here on the website as a useful visual guide. Until then, well, you’re stuck with my writing and pictures. If you want some more quick definitions, check out our Garden Glossary.
DISCLAIMER: Before you read about a product and just guess that your lawn, garden, and/or landscape need something, I urge you to take the necessary proper steps: 1) have your soil tested, either with a test kit or through your local UF IFAS County Extension Office; 2) make sure that your plants really have the issue you think they have before treating with anything. We can help.
Also called Calcific Limestone (which has less magnesium than other ag limestones), Dolomite, Dolomitic Lime, Ag Lime, Garden Lime – Agricultural Limestone is a powdery substance made of pulverized limestone. Limestone is mainly made up of Calcium Carbonate, but can also include Calcium Oxide, Magnesium Oxide, and Magnesium Carbonate.
Agricultural Limestone is used in soil to counteract acidity for plants that need a more neutral or alkaline soil to absorb nutrients. It increased the pH to make the soil more alkaline. Some plants require alkalinity or neutral pH to take up water and nutrients through the root systems. Also, for plants such as hydrangeas, often the pH of the soil dictates what colors the flowers will be.
In vegetable gardening, Agricultural Limestone is used to help combat diseases such as Blossom End Rot. This problem is very common in tomatoes and peppers where the soil does not have sufficient calcium and/or magnesium to complete the transformation of the flower into the fruit.
Blossom end rot is not your friend, make sure you add lime to your beds with veggies!!
Aluminum Sulfate, as with most powdered sulfur compounds, will decrease the pH of soil making it more acidic. This is useful when the soil is already too alkaline for the type of plants you want to plant in a particular place.
Aluminum Sulfate can be used for plants that like acidity, such has roses, blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and blackberries or raspberries. Also, again with hydrangeas, it will change the color of the flowers. It is an acidifier that doesn’t have to break down to provide the acidity. The pH will change instantly once it’s added to the soil.
This amendment should be worked into the top 6″ of soil with a shovel or rototiller for best results, and if you’re planting a lot of plants that require acidity in an area you can add it to the whole area to instantly provide the acidity the plants will need.
You know on regular bags of fertilizer there’s that 3-digit listing on the front, like 12-6-8 or 3-3-3? That’s your N-P-K indication required on all fertilizers. N = Nitrogen, P = Phophorus, K = Potassium.
Ammonium Nitrate is pretty much straight up Nitrogen. It gives your plants a boost when it’s bloom time and fruiting time. Plants use nitrogen to grow leaves and flowers and fruits.
This is also one of the things that we cannot sell during the June-September fertilizer ban because it will wash out of the soil and into our beautiful Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico during summer rains.
If you’re needing some nitrogen in this form, we’ll have it back on the shelves by October 1. In the meantime we have other organic solutions for you that are not subject to the City of Tampa’s fertilizer ban. Just ask us, we’ll help you out.
Blood meal is exactly what it sounds like. Blood from animals is dried into a powder. It is an excellent source of nitrogen and iron , and works as a soil acidifier too.
It is a dry powder because it is dehydrated, meaning all liquid is removed.
There are alternatives to blood meal, namely alfalfa meal and feather meal, which are also exactly what they sound like – ground alfalfa and ground feathers.
Bone meal is dried and pulverized bones from animals (and/or fish). When used in vegetable gardening it increases the flowering of the plants very quickly.
This is because bone meal is a great source of Phosphorus (the P in NPK), which is necessary to make flowers.
Alternatives to this are soft rock phosphate, urine, and manure. Manure will have to break down before it can offer phosphate, but bone meal, soft rock phosphate and urine all have it immediately available.
I know, I know, you’re thinking “urine, that can’t be right” but I promise, you read it correctly. If you can get over the possible “ick” factor you’re feeling right now, fresh urine is high in nitrogen, moderate in phosphorus and low in potassium and can act as an excellent high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer or as a compost accelerator.
So go ahead, pee in the garden! (C’mon, I had to say it, how often does anyone get to say it?)
Alright, that’s what I’ve got for this blog. I’ll go over more of the items in my Solving the Aisle of Mystery series as we move forward in time, so stay tuned for that.
In the meantime if you have questions about something on our shelves, don’t hesitate to ask.
Relocating your plant to a new home can be a little stressful to your plant. It’s suddenly got a new home, with new light, a new container, and room to grow. If you were a plant, what would you do first? Grow more leaves? Grow more roots? Just sit for awhile and ponder the meaning of this new life?
I know, I’m being silly, but in honor of our Fall Starter Plants arriving this week, I wanted to do a quick reference article to give you some Transplanting Tips for our starter plants.
All around the internet you’ll find gardener’s best transplanting tips, and a LOT of them are very different. That’s ok! The beautiful part about gardening is that we all have different experiences…we live with different soils…we have different plants. My best suggestion? Read as much as you can and figure out the best way for yourself. These are my tips that work for me.
Please note: This article is mostly referring to small vegetable and annual plants. Trees and shrubs have a different planting process, so make sure you know what to do with those!
Transplanting Tip #1 – Amend Your Soil First
Before you put your plant where you want it to be, prepare the area first. Whether your plant’s new home is a bigger container, in a raised bed, a square foot garden, a hay bale, or in the ground for a landscape, soil matters.
If you’re using fluffy potting soil in a container, you’ll need to add a bit more water at first. If you don’t, you’ll find that when you water your container for the first time, the soil will sink down. Now what looked like a full container will only be half to two-thirds full, and when you refill it you’ll bury your starter plant. That’s not good.
For in-ground and raised bed gardens, weed the area, pull back any mulching to expose the soil. Mix a palm-full of fertilizer (I like Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 – specially formulated for Florida Soil) into the top 6-10″ of soil with a trowel to aerate and loosen the soil. You want the bottom of the hole to be loose, un-compacted soil for several inches below where your plant’s root ball will be.
The little bit of fertilizer will help your plant through its initial period of adjustment, sometimes called “transplant shock”. Don’t use a lot, just mix in a small pile on your palm in about a 6″ x 6″ area.
If the soil is really dry, add a little water to help the soil reach a “crumbly” consistency, not muddy. This will help you with Step 2.
Transplanting Tip #2 – Make a Hole That’s Juuuuust Right
Goldilocks wasn’t a plant, but she had the right idea – she wanted everything “just so.” Plants do too, which is why we fuss over them, right?
I usually guesstimate the size of the root ball by the size of the container the plant is in. Using that approximation, I use 2-3 fingers on each hand to reach into the loosened, crumbly dirt. I then pull back the dirt into a hole that’s approximately the same width and depth as the root ball.
If you have a spare container laying around that’s the same size as the one for the plant you’re planting, you can use it to check your depth, but it’s not truly necessary.
The point of making the hole in this way is to keep you from burying the root ball too deep. You also don’t want to leave air pockets. Soil needs to touch roots to do its job.
Transplanting Tip #3 – Check Your Roots
OK, now it’s showtime. Grasp your plant loosely at the base of the stem with one hand, and the container with the other.
Lightly squeeze the soil inside the container, then lift the stem. If your container is flexible enough, you can also push the root ball up from the bottom.
Now look at your plant’s roots. Are there lots of visible roots that are thick and matted? Or is it mostly dirt showing there? Here’s an example of a root-bound plant versus a normal starter.
If your plant is severely root bound, you’ll need to squeeze and pull the roots gently apart to get them a little untangled. It’s a starter plant, so you don’t have to go crazy with this step, but they need a little separation so that they can find their new path into the soil’s ecosystem. Sometimes a couple of small slices with a pointed trowel will do the trick.
Transplanting Tip #4 – Place Your Plant In Its New Home
Alright, you’ve arrived ahead of time and put all your plant’s favorite things in its new home. You opened the door. Now it’s time to welcome your plant home!
Place the root ball gently into the hole you made. Your starter plant’s soil from its original growing container should just about line up with the soil of the plant’s new home.
Gently but firmly press the root ball and the new home’s soil together to get them acquainted. You want to make sure the big air pockets are eliminated and that your soil won’t sink too far when you perform the next step.
Don’t press so hard that you break the connection between the stem and the roots! I’ve done it. That’s why I wanted to mention it.
Transplanting Tip #5 – Water It In
Whether you’re planting one plant into a new container, or an entire bed or row of them, the last step is to water them in.
Watering helps eliminate the remaining air pockets from the transplanting process and helps the roots shift into a position to grow in a downward direction like you want them to.
You don’t need to water a lot at first. Do the initial watering of the soil, avoiding the stem and leaves if possible, until the soil is wet but no puddles remain. Give them a day to get adjusted to their new environment.
The next day you can add them to your normal watering routine. I will say that most starter plants will need to be watered a bit more until they get established. The soil doesn’t have to be drowning, but it shouldn’t completely dry out either (unless you’re dealing with succulents or cacti – that’s a whole new ball game right there).
I hope my transplanting tips are helpful to you as you plant your garden this season! What are your favorite tips and tricks for transplanting new plants into your garden? Tell me in the comments below.
Gardening in the Fall has been a favorite of mine ever since I was a child.
My dad grew 2 main gardens a year – Spring & Fall – which provided produce to eat for most of the year. When something died, he popped in a new seed or seedling, utilizing all his garden space to feed himself.
The garden was his main source of food.
Knowing that seedlings can get off to a great start with the bright sun & high rainfall in August/September, Fall really is a great time to plant a garden in Florida.
Also knowing that cooler weather is coming to help us work longer hours in the garden (without heat stroke!) is definitely something to look forward to.
A bit of a rewind…
Did you know we started this blog in August of 2017? That means the blog is 2 years old this month! WOW, does time fly.
In honor of the blog turning 2, & Marissa’s birthday coming up TOMORROW (yikes another one!), we’re doing a review of a few articles already written on Fall Gardening in Florida here in the blog.
So often the answers to your garden questions are all RIGHT HERE. For free.
Most of you reading today weren’t even aware of the blog when it started; you may not know how much information is already here, ready & waiting for you to discover. Let’s show you a few, shall we?
Wow, looking back at these articles that were written right at the beginning of Spring season 2019, they were JAM-PACKED full of great garden planning. Much of that content was re-purposed into the 5-Day Challenge that just ran in our Facebook group earlier this month (mentioned in the section above)
If you prefer to read print info rather than watching videos, that’s cool. These two articles really break it down into actionable steps to take to plan a garden, save money, record your successes, failures & the entire enjoyable journey!
Part 1 covers using the almanac to assist you in your planning, why your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is so important to know, deciding what you want to grow, analyzing the hours of sunshine you get in your selected growing spot, deciding your basic garden structure, & why a garden journal is so helpful to you.
Part 2 covers starting your garden from seeds versus starter plants, the importance of planning your water source for the garden, making sure that you have the time to take care of the garden you are planting, soil amendment, journaling, & some helpful tips like companion planting. I even have pictures of the plan for the garden I planted this past Spring in there for your reference.
A crash course in container plantings that have a theme, these Simple Container Plantings were created as a fun back-to-school project so that busy parents could have a Moment of Zen to relax via gardening, make something pretty, & get their hands dirty after they drop off the kids.
It includes plant-o-grams (you like that? I made it up!) for insect-repelling containers, a cooking & garnish garden, and a lovely leafy greens planting with simple coleus for color. Also a few tips on why containers are planted like they are, & what you really need to do to take care of them, and keep them thriving as long as possible.
We have a lot of information that is here for you, anytime you need it. To see the entire library, click this link and scroll through the entry “stubs” and images to see what might interest you. I’d love to hear your feedback.
**quick note** I am currently working on conforming to changes in the WordPress website blog formatting which has left some of my blogs difficult to read. If you are having issues with a particular blog please let me know right away – I see and respond to article comments, or you can email me: marissa at shellsfeed dot com (make that into and email address 🙂 )
Thanks for being a great customer and/or fan of our store (I realize some of you might be too far away to stop in and say hi).
We strive every day to be a fantastic community resource for gardening, urban farming, and pet supplies as well as having knowledgeable staff to help you out with your questions.
We’ll see you soon for your Fall Gardening supplies list!
You want a garden. You want to be proud of that garden.
Growing your own anything is an accomplishment in itself. It’s an exercise in patience, temperance, perseverence, observation, and getting your hands dirty, aka, sweat equity.
Not every person is cut out to be a gardener. It takes a special kind of human to give the kind of love that plants need.
Now, if you’re a beginner, there’s some things to know that will set you up for success every time.
Even if you’re a seasoned pro, these tips are often forgotten because “we got this” and just dive in and see what happens…often costing extra time, money, and precious resources.
There are 3 items that should be on your To-Do list to get that garden into TA-DAAA! shape before you even begin. Let’s get started!
#1: Decide Your WHY
It’s always good to sit down and decide what it is you want to accomplish. To know your “why”, you need to know a few things about yourself. Here’s the questions to ask:
Why do I want to garden?
Knowing your WHY is essential to defining your garden type.
For example, you want low maintenance houseplants that clean the air.
Or, you want to grow herbs to use in your cooking or crafts.
Maybe it is to grow healthy organic food for your family.
Or you want to grow cutting flowers for your hobby of making flower arrangements.
You will have different needs depending on your “why”. And depending on the other factors below, you may have multiple “whys”.
How much physical space do I have to garden?
Knowing your “WHERE” is important to discover.
This answer will vary for people. Some are gardening on a 3rd floor apartment balcony. Some garden in a community garden plot. Some on a 2 acre suburban farm. Others on a skyscraper rooftop. Maybe you just have space for a few containers.
Wherever you are, you can garden. So figure out what space you are dedicating to growing a garden.
A little side note here: If you have a big yard and you’re just starting out, pick ONE small corner or area to start. Tackling a huge space will only overwhelm you.
How much time do I have to garden?
It’s time for a quick check-in with reality.
The question of time is on everyone’s minds, right? You have to decide how much time you have to garden each day or each week.
My suggestion has always been this: Take the number of hours each week you think you can dedicate to gardening, and cut that in half.
Why, you ask? Because we always think we have more time than we actually do.
For instance, if you think that you can dedicate an hour a day every day, that’s 7 hours in a week. Cut that in half, that would be 3.5 hours a week.
With this example number in mind, look at the rest of your life with your “reality check” goggles on. Are you ACTUALLY able to carve out 3.5 hours in a week, every single week, throughout the season? Answer honestly.
Another way to look at it is to ask yourself, “Do I have 3.5 hours that I would carve out for ANYTHING ELSE that could be considered a chore, like going to the gym? Am I really dedicated to doing this gardening thing? Can I share the responsibility of garden care, like watering and picking veggies, with a spouse, partner, friend, or child, to help me out?”
Only you can answer these questions. I’m just here to ask them. And I hope you say YES!
Having a garden is a little like having a pet. You have to care for it consistently, maintain it’s “training” (weeding, clipping, pruning), and feed and water it on a regular basis too.
But the rewards are endless. I promise.
#2: Make A Garden Plan
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘plan your work and work your plan’? Well, that addage applies to gardening as much as it does any other large project in your life or work.
For example, Let’s say you’ve decided to accentuate your house with plants, you will need a plan for that. Some of the questions you’ll need to answer are:
How much care will they take?
How much light and water will each plant need?
Do I have the materials to repot my plants if they outgrow their current container?
How to I keep them from being messy tenants?
Do I have the essential tools & resources to take care of my plants?
As another example, if you’ve decided to grow your own tomatoes, you definitely need a plan for that. Some of the questions you’ll need to answer are:
What variety/varieties of tomatoes do I want to eat?
Where will my tomatoes get 8 hours of sunlight?
Is that area near my water source?
What kind of planting will I be doing? Container? Raised Bed?
Do I have enough soil & amendments to produce healthy tomatoes?
In these two examples, as you can see, your final goal determined what questions you needed to answer for yourself.
For those 5 days, Monday through Friday, I’ll be giving you one tip per day to create your garden plan in a Facebook Live video. I would love for you to join me live so we can interact and I can answer your questions right there.
Here’s another old saying that applies here: “If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it.”
The proof of your successes, and the records of your failures, are very important to gardening. It helps you recreate the successes and build upon them. It also helps you avoid making the same mistakes over and over again (think: the definition of INSANITY).
The Garden Journal is where you plan out and record your observations of your garden. It’s where you photograph, sketch, write observations, record harvests. Heck, some people write down weather conditions and inches of rain received each day.
For some folks, it’s a simple spiral bound notebook or paper composition notebook with written daily or weekly entries.
For others, it’s an elaborate scrapbook of photos, sketches, notes, etc and bound up in a fancy album or book.
Whatever you like to do, I recommend keeping a journal for each year. If your journal book of choice has too few pages, one for each 6 months of your growing season, like Spring/Summer 2019 and then Fall/Winter 2019, will work just fine.
Possible things to record in a journal include:
The Garden Plan (see #1)
What you planted (and in what form, seed or starter plant)
Where you planted it
When you planted it (date)
How you planted it (did you add nutrients to the soil? did you mulch? is it a container planting? etc.)
Periodic observations of the planting – pick a period (daily/weekly) or decide that “3 times a week” is good and then see what works out in your schedule – either way, each entry should have a date on it.
When the plants first flower (for flowers and veggies)
When the plants first fruit (if you’re growing food)
When you harvested (again, for food)
When you collected seeds (if you do that)
Any pest problems and how you solved them (good opportunity for photos!)
Extra details like rainfall, soil amendments added during the growing season, how they performed where they were located, and any other observations
You get to decide how detailed you want to be, but I would at least make sure to record a minimum of the things listed above in order for the journal to serve as a guide to future success (or, avoidance of failure).
To get started with Creating a Garden Plan of your very own, join me in the Shell’s Garden Community group July 29-August 2 for Facebook Live videos where I walk you through the process. I’ll give you tips, tricks, and advice, and answer questions live during the video as well.
Please join me!
Until then, think about your WHY – and let’s get ready for some gardening!
I’ve been asking around, and found Summer Garden Veggies that will survive the heat – some I know you’ve heard of, and some that you maybe haven’t.
So lets expand our Summer food fare and try some new things, shall we? Here they are, in alphabetical order!
Cow Peas (aka Black-Eyed Peas)
Also called Field Peas, Zipper Peas, and a few other names, the many varieties of Cow Peas attest to their value as a crop. They are delicious and high in fiber, like most peas and beans.
Planted in June here in Florida, during the summer months they tolerate the heat (as long as they’re watered! Hunters have used them for a long time to plant their deer grazing plots, as deer LOVE them, and they are inexpensive seeds (we offer them in bulk packaging). They are also used as a cover crop to keep fields from going fallow. Cow Peas are nitrogen-fixers, which means that they naturally put nitrogen, one of the main ingredients in fertilizers, back into the soil, just by being themselves.
And when you get ready to plant in the Fall, just pick all the pods off, and till these babies under about 2 weeks in advance of your Fall planting to add even more nitrogen (and other organic matter) into your soil. Your garden will thank you.
These are small, currant-sized, flavorful tomatoes that have been naturalized to the Florida climate. You can find these growing wild in some areas, especially swampy sites. But I’ve also seen them growing out of sidewalks, so their hardiness seems to know no bounds.
The further South you are, the more likelihood that you’ll have fruit all year round. They will continually produce under the right conditions, and they will take the HEAT. Also, they re-seed themselves very readily, so if your initial plant stops producing, most likely one of the tomatoes has fallen off somewhere and you’ll have another plant very soon in some random spot. Just ask the Seminole Heights Community Garden here in Tampa, they have Everglades Tomato seedlings pop up everywhere.
Yes, they are small, but they are MIGHTY. Like other tomatoes, they are high in nutrients such as lycopene, Vitamins, alpha- and beta-carotenes, and many trace minerals too.
The Jerusalem Artichoke is a tuber-producing plant with bright yellow flowers. It’s almost like a potato plant mixed with a sunflower. That’s probably why they’re called “Sunchokes” in some places. Also called the Earth Apple, or Sunroot, it is, in fact, in the Sunflower family (Helianthus), not related to the artichoke, and is native to Central America, but grows wild all over the US as well.
It’s super easy to grow! You can buy the tubers from the grocery and plant those. It can make a nice tall flower row in your veggie garden, or get a special hybrid dwarf variety for ornamental flower beds.
The tuber can be used like a potato. It contains inulin, which is a carbohydrate that directly feeds your gut flora, and it is LOW in calories. You can easily make chips, hashbrowns, mashed sunchokes, vegetable soup, and more using the tuber. You can eat it raw or cooked, and the plants are really pretty when they flower! They are usually planted in early summer and can be harvested in Winter.
As a side note, several sources have advised that this veggie causes a bit of gaseous discomfort, so just keep that in mind and don’t make it the main course!
Jicama, pronounced “hee-kuh-muh” (actually there are multiple ways to pronounce it!), is a wonderful tuber native to Mexico. It’s sometimes called a Mexican Potato, Mexican Turnip, or Yam Bean. It’s not related to the yam. It is very rich in fiber, Vitamin C, and only 25 calories per half cup. It is used traditionally as a condiment, marinated in lime juice and chili powder and added to dishes for extra crunch and flavor.
But you can also cook with it! You can make potato dishes like fries or hashbrowns, put it in salad raw for crunch kind of like a water chestnut. I’ve used it in stir fry (I know, totally crossing cultures there!) in place of bamboo shoots because I didn’t have any and I loved it!
Jicama is the taproot of the legume plant it comes from, and is the only edible part of the plant. The leaves, seed pods, and flowers are all toxic and should not be eaten. It takes about 5-9 months to be ready for harvest, so if you plant in June, it will probably be ready by December or January.
Ah, here’s one you might not have heard of. Katuk, nicknamed the Sweetleaf bush (not *that* kind of “sweetleaf” ya’ll) is an Asian-native edible shrub that grows in the tropical rainforests of Cambodia, Vietnam, and other Asian rainforest climates. I’ve also seen them called “Star Gooseberry” plants, but less often.
It prefers moist shaded areas, but will tolerate full sun if it’s kept wet, and in either condition it loves hot and humid weather. One of the most amazing things about Katuk is that nearly the entire shrub is edible! Leaves, flowers, seeds, and tender shoots or the last 4-5 inches of the stems are all edible. The tender stems are like Asparagus. You can eat any of these parts of the plant raw or cooked.
One of the most remarkable things about Katuk is that nutritionally it’s about 50% protein – the older leaves holding the most nutrition. It is a very common dish in Asian cultures because of this. Isn’t nature AMAZING?
Malabar Spinach is a heat-tolerant vine native to Asia. Not related at all to traditional spinach, it has beautiful broad green heart-shaped leaves and a bright red to crimson stem (there is another variety that has a green stem), and grows up a trellis, mailbox, or flagpole quite nicely (up to 33 feet!)! It will take the heat and full sun with it’s semi-succulent leaves.
Ever had a Philipino dish called Utan? That’s Malabar Spinach cooked in sardines, garlic, onion, and parsley over rice. Yum!
Malabar Spinach is one of the only spinach-like plants that will thrive in the summer, and there are several other benefits to using this spinach in place of the cool-season varieties. First, the leaves are not “slimy” when cooked like traditional spinach. Next, the leaves are quite mild in flavor, not bitter or “peppery”, and so can be eaten raw or cooked, and are often a preferred way to get kids to eat their greens. Finally, it’s a great source of Vitamin A, C, Iron, and Calcium, and is high in protein per calorie.
These should be started from seed in the Spring, or you can start with rooted cuttings in June, and it will grow all summer long. If there’s no freeze, or if you can bring it inside on frosty nights, it will survive the Winter and keep on growing for you year-round. I’ve seen them come back after a mild freeze too! Many people I’ve talked to like Malabar more than Okinawa Spinach, another warm-season spinach “replacement”.
Moringa is called the Tree of Life, or the Miracle Tree, for many reasons. The leaves, bark, roots, flowers, and seeds are edible, and provide a LOT of nutrition. They are also used to make medicine in their native areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. According to several sources, the Moringa leaves and seeds have large amounts of Potassium, Vitamin C, Calcium, Protein, Vitamin A, Fiber, and Iron.
According to WebMD:
“Moringa is used for anemia, arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism), asthma, cancer, constipation, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, stomach pain, stomach and intestinal ulcers, intestinal spasms, headache, heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney stones, fluid retention, thyroid disorders, and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections. Moringa is also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive (as an aphrodisiac), prevent pregnancy, boost the immune system, and increase breast milk production. Some people use it as a nutritional supplement or tonic. Moringa is sometimes applied directly to the skin as a germ-killer or drying agent (astringent). It is also used topically for treating pockets of infection (abscesses), athlete’s foot, dandruff, gum disease (gingivitis), snakebites, warts, and wounds. Oil from moringa seeds is used in foods, perfume, and hair care products, and as a machine lubricant. Moringa is an important food source in some parts of the world. Because it can be grown cheaply and easily, and the leaves retain lots of vitamins and minerals when dried, moringa is used in India and Africa in feeding programs to fight malnutrition. The immature green pods (drumsticks) are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach, and they are also dried and powdered for use as a condiment. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction is used as a fertilizer and also to purify well water and to remove salt from seawater.”
Wow!!! It’s easy to grow, takes the heat, and is good for you. What are you waiting for?
A beautiful, heat-loving flower, the Nasturtium is a common garden flower that comes in a variety of colors like yellows, oranges, and reds. They have a beautiful mounding habit with large round green or variegated leaves that provide the perfect backdrop to show off their flowers.
They have a wonderful fragrance and work well as a cut flower. The best part is, they’re edible! The leaves and flowers have a peppery taste that go well in a salad (in place of arugula which went to seed at the beginning to middle of Spring for most people in Florida.
Further, they are packed with nutrition and medicinal properties. Vitamin C, Manganese, Iron, Flavinoids, and Beta Carotene are all packed into this lovely package. Nasturtiums have been used to treat colds, bacterial and fungal infections, coughs, and even hair loss.
Once they start to flower, you really have to stay on top of the harvest, because if the pods grow too long they get fibrous and tough, and won’t taste good at all. If that happens, you can let them dry and harvest the seeds for next year’s crop.
Okra is used in a lot of Southern food, like cajun gumbos and creole stews, where it’s slick, moist nature really adds thickness to the dishes. You can also bake or fry sliced okra rings with corn meal, spices and salt for a wonderful side dish.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better food producer that’s this easy to grow.
Take me out to the ballgame…or the garden, actually, because you can grow your own Peanuts! Peanuts are a legume, like a bean, and they have an interesting way of growing.
Each of the pretty yellow to orange flowers of an edible peanut, not to be confused with the landscaping “flowering peanut”, makes a peanut. Once fertilized by pollination (usually bees or native wasps), the flower transforms into a “peg” on a stem that droops over to touch the ground. That peg then grows roots and nodules that become peanuts underground. How cool is that?
Peanuts are also nitrogen fixers. They take the heat, and add nitrogen back into the soil, so of course they make a great summer cover crop for Florida gardens. Once you harvest the peanuts by uprooting, put the plants and remaining roots back onto the soil and till it under, they’ll decompose and be a great source of organic nutrients for your Fall garden if done a couple of weeks before planting. Awesome!
You already know about peppers, but did you know that they do well in the heat? Many people have peppers that keep producing all year long!
Even if you don’t eat the hot peppers, they can ripen in so many different beautiful colors, it’s worth keeping them around. Maybe even give them to your hot-sauce loving neighbors. There are also ornamental peppers that have beautiful long-lasting colored fruits, just for decoration.
Full sun, and keep them watered! That’s pretty much all you need to know. If they wilt in the afternoon no matter what you do, maybe give them some afternoon shade to help them cope with our over 100 degree days. I will say that peppers native to tropical climates, like many of the hot peppers, do better in the heat than ones that have been bred for more temperate climates (like many bell peppers).
Purslane is a small, flowering succulent that grows wild in much of the US and other continents. Also called Wild Portulaca, it is very hardy, and many people for years have considered it an aggressive weed. But you can EAT IT – so why not control it by munching on it?
Purslane takes crunchy with a bit of a lemon tang. It’s been likened to watercress or even spinach, and can be a replacement for either. You can use it to thicken soups and stews because if its high levels of pectin. This also makes it good to partially substitute out oil in a pesto – you can use less oil when you add purslane.
Nutritionally, Purslane is high in Omega-3 fatty acid Alpha Linolenic Acid, or ALA, surprisingly enough, so it’s great for veggie lovers to get that extra boost of fatty acid. It also contains high amounts of Vitamin E, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.
Purslane also been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years in traditional medicines around the world to ensure healthy growth and development of children, for weight loss, to improve heart health, and to treat certain gastrointestinal diseases. It also has anti-cancer potential, protects the skin, boosts vision, strengthens the immune system, builds strong bones, and increases circulation. Strong anti-oxidant properties seem to be a prevalent factor in its medicinal use.
Sweet potatoes are a sweet treat that take the heat. You plant between April and early June for late Fall harvest, just in time for big holiday meals. We already have a Sweet Potato growing guide here on our site, and I gave some extra tips here in the blog in an article I wrote last year, so check that out if you’re wanting to know some tips and tricks for growing a great crop of sweet potatoes.
While they grow tubers underground to satisfy our holiday sweet tooth (with some brown sugar and butter), the young leaves can also be eaten in salads – they’re delicious!
As you may know, sweet potatoes are great for nutrition. With hefty amounts of beta carotene, they will raise the blood levels of Vitamin A quickly, especially in children, making that more available for growth and development. It’s also rich in Fiber, and this makes it very filling. Other nutrients present in significant amounts include Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese, Vitamin B6 & B5, and Vitamin E. That’s even sweeter!
Wow, Yard Long beans, also called Asparagus beans, live up to their name! These are super-long beans that you can snap and eat like green beans, and they are a wonderful addition to your summer heat-tolerant garden.
I suggest you grow them on a trellis, as this will allow you to get the longest beans! If you can grow them on an arched trellis, point the beans downward in the “tunnel” and you’ll have an easier harvest…and a conversation piece too!
They are similar in texture to regular green beans, you’ll just need to chop them shorter to cook them (many won’t fit in your pan if left long!). You can also roast them like asparagus, thus their alternate name, though they are not a fibrous as asparagus. If you have eaten wild asparagus that grows along the fence lines of Montana pastureland, it is more like that – not chewy or woody at all, just a sweet young asparagus flavor, without the funny smelling side effect (you know what I’m talking about, right?).
OK, I’ll give you one more Florida Summer Garden plant as a bonus. It’s an herb and it has many relatives. I think that it’s relevant for Summer because it’s refreshing on a hot summer day.
There are so many kinds of mint, I can’t even begin to list them all. Remember in Forest Gump where Bubba (aka Buford Blue) talks about all the kinds of shrimp he wants to make? You can do that with Mint species. Some of the species in the Mint family are Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, Horsemint, and Catnip.
You can grow nearly any of them through the summer. I usually give mine some afternoon shade if I can, just to help them out. If you keep them watered, they’ll keep going! They are aggressive, but I think that’s a good thing. A friend of mine replaced her grass with Mint, which vined out and went everywhere. Every time she mowed the front yard the whole block smelled like fresh mint. That’s not a bad thing, is it? If you don’t want it to spread, keep it in a pot, and keep trailing ends from touching the ground, or it will root and take off.
Some would argue the best use of mint in Tampa is for Mojitos. Anyone else agree?
Alright, thanks for reading – I hope this helps you find some great growing options for your Florida Summer Garden!