Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2
By Marissa

In Part 2 of this series, Tips for a Great Garden Plan, we’re going to dive deeper into what to grow, how many to plant, amending soil, and more!

In the last blog article, I assigned a little homework – deciding what you wanted to eat from/grow in your garden was one of them.  So, hopefully you have that information. But if not, take a moment to pick a few of your favorite things.

Starting from Seed

If you’re growing from seed, you’ll have planting instructions on the back of the package.  It might look something like this the image below.

These instructions printed on the back of these seed packets are based on planting seeds in beds that are in the ground, and are oriented to traditional farming – in other words, having rows of all the same crops like we talked about last time.  

Regarding planting time, the most important things to see on there for these kinds of gardens is the seed planting depth and the spacing between seeds.  This is very important for planting in long rows because it allows your plants the space they need to grow roots that will support the plant and also gather enough nutrients to put on the fruit you want to harvest.

I don’t want to be “normal”

But what if you don’t have, or want, a traditional farming setup?  What if you want to have a mixed bed? All containers? A Square Foot Garden?

It’s ok. You can fudge these spacing numbers a little in raised beds and mix up your crops.  In raised beds, for nutrient purposes we can amend the soil even more to make up for the various nutritional needs of the different plants we put in the raised beds and the increased uptake of nutrients because we are planting the crops closer than recommended, and we need for all the plants to have all the nutrients needed to flower and produce their fruit.

 

Starter Plants

Starter plants are definitely easier than starting from seed, but starting from seed is really satisfying!  I don’t find any fault with either method, but starter plants give you instant gratification, so, there’s that.  

If you are starting with starter plants like the ones we sell, make sure you pick up a free Shell’s Garden Guide!  On the back is a general guide to planting – the when, how far apart, etc – it’s all there! Our source of information is the University of Florida IFAS website, and there you can find their full gardening guide if you have more questions about care and best practices.  I linked to that in my previous article, so make sure you check that out if you haven’t already!

Otherwise, planting starter plants is very similar in technique to planting seeds – spacing, alignment with the sun, nutrients – get those figured out and you’re good to go!

How Much Should I Water?

What’s a good watering rate? Well, that depends on a lot of factors.  From UF IFAS Vegetable Garden Guide:  “Vegetables cannot tolerate standing water from excessive
rainfall or irrigation. At the same time, vegetables need
soil moisture to grow and produce. Frequency of irrigation
depends upon the age of the crop and your soil type.
Young plants need frequent but light irrigation; maturing
crops need more water but less often. Sandy soils demand
more frequent irrigation than clay, muck, or amended
soils. Conserve water by using mulch, organic matter, and
techniques such as drip irrigation. Make a slight depression
at the base of plants to hold water until absorbed by the soil.

So, as an example, early in the season right after planting, 1/10th of an inch daily might be good. As it gets hotter, watch for your plants to droop. They might need a good daily inch of watering, or maybe every other day. If you watch them closely, they will tell you!  Make sure you water early in the morning so the leaves have time to dry before the evening, when fungus proliferates the most.  Mulching your garden beds will help keep water from evaporating in the heat of the day and will keep the soil cooler.  You’ll especially want to watch for plant droop in the hot afternoons.

 

Let’s Talk Soil

Our Florida Native soil is very sandy, which is great for our native plant species – they love it!  Wonderful crops like Seminole Pumpkins, Everglades Tomatoes, Cranberry Hibiscus (pictured here), etc., all do really well just in the soil we have. You’ll want to give the ground around them some organic matter to chew on, like it would be where they naturally grow.

Normally, though, we’re planting things that are not native, which require more than what we have in our soil naturally.  So, we have to make our soil more than it is with amendments. What are some of these amendments? I’m glad you asked, because you’ll need to plan for them.  Here’s some common ones:

Fertilizers are the most commonly used way to amend the soil. These consist of granules or liquid ready-to-use nutrients that are immediately available to the plants through the foliage, or the roots, or both.  They are easy to apply, and with that, they also can wash away quickly. Many folks use time-released fertilizers that degrade slowly and provide a steady supply of nutrients over time.  Organic fertilizers are also available, so if that is your aim, search them out – there are some good ones out there (see Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Fertilizer…it’s really awesome!! Mr. Shell formulated it just for Florida soils.).

 

 

 

Worm castings are “worm poop” – it is the byproduct of their feeding process.  If you naturally have earthworms in your soil, that’s great! You can attract more of them (or provide them a great place to breed) by mulching with leaves, coffee grounds, shredded newspaper, and other vegetable matter.  Have you ever heard of Vermiculture? You can grow your own worms and collect their castings and make a nourishing “tea” from their waste using this technique. I previously wrote some articles about it here and here if you’d like to learn more.  We sell worm castings, a big bag is about $13.  During growing season we also have compost worms available when our grower brings them, so call us and ask if we have them in stock!

 

Keeping a Garden Journal

It’s good practice to keep a garden journal – write down what you planted, and then as the days go forward write down what chores you did and anything you observed, as well as anything applied to the garden, pests you found, and what you did about them.  Keeping this information to look back on is very helpful! Plus it will keep you from planting the same plants in the same beds over and over again and depleting the soil.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, and there’s lot of free ones to print out from online.  I am in the process of designing a downloadable for you, so if you are a journal keeper, send me suggestions of what you’d like to see in a garden journal that you can print out for yourself!

 

There are a lot of companions plants that work well together – I like the book Carrots Love Tomatoes as a guide. I’ve had a copy for so long it fell apart and I had to get a new one! I think the author has revised the book and added some things since I last purchased it, so check out the latest publishing of it!  There are also other references for you on the internet, just look up Companion Planting for ideas.

Some Plants Don’t Play Well Together – Be Aware

Then there are some plants that don’t play well with others, those are also listed in this handy book!

Onions, for example, need their own beds or containers because they tend to stunt the growth of other plants. 

And Nightshades like Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, and Eggplant, for example, are all susceptible to the same diseases, so it’s not advised to plant them close together because if one gets infected, they will all be compromised.  

If you don’t have Carrots Love Tomatoes, that’s ok, you can look up articles on what to not plant together and you’ll find lots of information. I’m sure it will be a topic for my blog at some point!

 

Now It’s Your Turn!

Alright, so I’ve given you a lot of information in these two articles! now, I want you to apply it and create a garden plan for yourself!  I’m here if you have questions, and I’d like to see your plans, so send me pictures!!

Here’s something to keep in mind: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” –Zig Ziglar

Have fun! 

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

More things to Consider When Making Your Plan

  • How will you get water to your plants?  

If this is a difficult process, I promise, you won’t water as often as you need to, especially as it gets hotter later in Spring. And that will dash your dreams of farm to table in a matter of days.  A little benign neglect is acceptable, however, if your garden bed requires lots and lots of lugging heavy buckets of water across the yard…trust me, you won’t want to torture yourself like that. A funny quote I saw about gardening attests to this:  “Gardening starts at Day Break and ends at Back Break.” If you’re like me and can get lost in the garden, don’t make it any harder to be out there working than it absolutely has to be!

Consider putting a water “splitter” at the closest spigot and bury a hose a few inches under the ground that runs from the spigot to a good central point in your garden beds, and have the end of the hose pop up and hook to a sprinkler that will water the full area of your beds.  You might have to elevate the sprinkler by attaching it to a post (wood or PVC works for this) to make it reach everything. If you’re really wanting to be inventive and industrious, from where your hose emerges from the ground, run micro irrigation or soaker hoses throughout your beds.  This take a little bit of engineering, so do your research. My dad used soaker hoses and loved them. He put them on a timer so they would run even if he forgot.

 

 

  • How much time do you have to dedicate to gardening?  Do you have help?

If you are very very busy, don’t plant a lot.  If you can only spare 5 minutes a day, a couple of Earthboxes are your best bet.  If you have an hour a day and more on weekends, you can expand your garden and plant quite a bit because you’ll have the time to do what needs done – weeding, feeding, watering, pest management, etc.  If you have help, that’s even better!

Take it a step further – have a weekly calendar of garden tasks, for instance Weeding Wednesday for pulling weeds, Feeding Friday for checking plant health and fertilizing if needed (for instance if they’ve just started flowering and/or fruiting).  Things like inspection for pests and picking them off should be done every day, and if treatment is needed, do it right away. Watering can and should be a daily task (unless you are growing in an Earthbox, then you probably can go a day or two without watering – depends on how hot it is and what you have planted, so check at least!).  Eventually, harvesting will be a daily thing too – bed you can’t wait for that!

Weekends are for larger projects – spreading mulch, structure building, or pest treatments for large areas that take time.  During the week should be spot treatments, but if you know you need to treat the whole garden for something, do that when you’re not in a hurry so you can be thorough.

 

 

Compost is partially-degraded vegetable material like leaves, sticks, veggies, paper, etc.  When this is added to the soil, it continues to break down and provides nutrients to the plants as it does so.  Built up over time, compost makes the soil very rich and dark. You can also make a “compost tea” to water your plants with for a quick natural boost of nutrients.  There are lots of articles on the internet about composting and compost tea. A great local resource is the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance – they have lots of information about composting.  Pinellas County has a very composting-friendly municipal government, even their Department of Solid Waste is on board!  Hillsborough doesn’t have any official policy, however, there is a Composting workshop that is held periodically by the Hillsborough County Extension Office of the UF IFAS program, so check that out as a way to get started. Here is an article from the UF IFAS Blog as well (written by the PCCA too!).

 

“Lasagne gardening” is a layering technique of putting a bunch of compostable materials on the top of your soil and planting in it.  As it breaks down, and with repeated applications each planting season, you get a good solid layer of rich soil full of organic material and solid populations of beneficial soil microbes.  No digging!!

It really is concentrated applied and active composting.

There are books written about this technique, just look around the ‘net, you’ll find them.  If not, let me know, I’ll dig out my book and give you the info for it.

 

Planting by Groups

Often called companion planting, it’s something to consider.  For example, I am planning a 3 Sisters garden bed this year (see the photo of my plan at the end of this article).  The 3 Sisters are Corn, Beans, and Squash.  This is a method of companion planting that is very beneficial to these three kinds of plants, and has been used and passed down from Native American growing traditions.  Corn stalks can be used to support beans (I’m using bush variety, but if you use pole beans, the corn makes a great “trellis” for them!). The beans fix nitrogen in the soil which increases availability for all three, and the squash makes a natural ground cover with their big leaves, keeping the soil shaded, cooler, and helps eliminate some of the water evaporation from the hot sun (and raccoons don’t like the fuzzy squash leaves, so bonus there!).  Here’s a fun article from our friends at the Old Farmer’s Almanac about it.  

I’ll Show You Mine

Here is a pic of my garden plan for this Spring.  It is a work-in-progress (do you ever really finish?).  This is one of quite a few drawings because I change my mind a lot.  Things that are important to note are:

  1. Knowing how your garden is oriented in relation to the sun.  I drew the Compass Rose on the diagram so that I could remember.
  2. Relative orientations and sizes of the beds – you need to know where they are in relation to the others and their measurements (which are not shown here…I will add them later today!).
  3. Note new things you’re planting – for me, Corn is new – because in small quantities like this, they need to be hand-pollinated, so that is a special project I will have to do when the tassels and silks are ready!!  Kind of excited about trying that – I just hope I don’t miss the window!
  4. Special notes for things that I need to remember are included – see the upper right of the image.
  5. Number the larger beds so that you can refer to them easily in notes.
  6. I noted some maintenance projects that I need to do in orange ink.

My special notes say:

“Separate squash & zucchini to help minimize cross-pollination.”

“Tall crops at North end of the beds” (this keeps tall crops from shading shorter ones, the sun passes over east to west, and where I am the sun is slightly to the south of direct, even in the summer).

“Radishes and Marigolds are planted throughout beds 1 and 2, marigolds included in the wildflower bed too.”

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 1

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 1
By Marissa

In this 2 part blog series, I’d like to talk about making a great garden plan for your Spring garden. 

Planning a garden in the dead of winter is almost like taking your mind into the setting of an idyllic fairy tale.  Right about now, the seed catalogs are arriving at homes all over America.

You dream of what your garden could be, and sometimes make it a bit embellished with a touch of the impossible.  It’s fun to think about Spring gardening, surely, during a less-desirable growing season for us like Winter, but I believe that one of the most important garden planning steps is to “reign it in” a little.  Trust me, I’ve been there, got carried away, and wasted money on stuff I couldn’t plant. So I thought I’d help you a bit here with some tips about gardening, in any season.

Ready?

Let’s get started!

#2: Review your garden area’s USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map

Almost all garden plants like vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and tree species have a USDA Zone rating.  If you look in your seed catalogs, for example, most of them will say something like “hardy up to Zone 3” or “for growing in Zones 7-12 only” or “grows as an annual above Zone 6”.  Ever wondered what that really means?

The USDA actively researches Plant Hardiness for all areas of the United States.  This is based as much on the origin of the plants we like to grow as well as historical weather data.  They have provided us a handy online tool for finding out what your Plant Hardiness Zone is. Here is the link: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

On that site you can see the colorful map of the zones, and if you look near the top left, there is a place to enter your garden area’s ZIP code.  When you do that, you’ll get an answer as to what Zone you’re in (for example, Lutz ZIP code 33549 is in growing area 9b, as is the store’s ZIP code of 33612).  You can also view state, regional, and national maps that you can print out if you like using the tabs at the top of that page. It’s pretty neat to look up different places and see what zone they’re in!(HINT: It’s a fun learning exercise for kids that ties meteorology and climate together with food production capability and geography).

Once you find out what Zone you’re in, then you will have more knowledge of what you can grow in your area.  Here in the Tampa Bay area, that’s pretty easy – nearly everything will grow here! There are a few notable exceptions, but we will talk about that later.
 

 

 

 

#4: Figure out how much garden space you have – and where it’s at in relation to the Sun

Figuring out how much space you have will determine how much you can grow.  You see, in most gardens, you need to give your plants space to spread out their roots to support themselves and gather nutrients effectively so that you get the produce you’re after.  That is why seed packets have spacing instructions!

Mark out a space that gets a lot of Sun in the Spring.  That may be a little difficult now, as the sun doesn’t climb as high in the sky during the Winter as it does in the Spring.  But if you think about it, and remember sunny areas in your yard from the previous year, you can estimate the areas that will get the most sun.  You can wait until end of February/beginning of March and do a Sun Map if you like, a couple of examples appear below:

Look at openings in the tree canopy (if you have mature trees; I know that many homes recently built do not have any trees to speak of), and know where the sun rises and sets in relation to the area you want to plant.  That will mostly tell you if you’ll get the production you want.

You can get techie too! There is a google map overlay called SunCalc that allows you to see where the sun will be on a given day at a given time.  It’s pretty nifty if you want to get all nerdy with it.

As an example, tomatoes need at least 8 hours of sun per day to produce fruit.  Think of it like charging solar cells – the more sun you have, the more photosynthesis can happen, the more fruit you can get.  So you’ll want to pick areas that get that kind of sunlight if you want to grow that kind of crop. Lettuce requires less hours of sun (4-6) so you can grow that in areas that may not have access to as much light.  Your seed packets and catalogs will usually give you an idea of what kind of sun they need, and if not, the Extension service websites I gave you in Tip #3 should have what you’re looking for.

 

 

Feel free to mix it up!  Build one raised bed and set other containers beside it, or have a section of Earthboxes and another in-ground bed.  The great thing is, it’s all up to you, so be adventurous!  Gardening is all about experimentation.

Alright, that’s quite a lot to consider already, and we’re only about halfway through this planning guide!

So, your homework, should you be so inspired, is to look at your garden space, decide where you want to plant, what you want to plant there, and to get your structure planned, and possibly built!  In a couple of weeks we will explore Part 2 of Tips for a Great Garden Plan, and we’ll talk more about how to decide what to grow, how many to plant, soil amending, and more!

I highly suggest starting a Garden Journal.  There are lots of them out there that are already created – just have to download them.  Or you could just use a plain ol’ notebook or 3-ring binder.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but if you’re artistic, or a photographer, it’s a great opportunity to make drawings and store photos of your garden friends, year after year, like a scrapbook.  Or you can make it more scientific-looking too. 

Keep track of the season with a simple label for the top of each page, you can put the date if you like, but I also like to include “Spring 2019” in there.  Sketch out your garden beds and/or container areas in relation to other landmarks in your yard, mark the sizes and shapes, and maybe some notes about why you put them there.  If you’re going with containers, have an idea of what kind you want, as this will help you make your shopping list later.  Start to list out the things you want to grow and eat and/or flowers for bouquets (and maybe throw in an area for a pollinator garden)!  All of this will help in the steps we’ll talk about next time.

Until then…thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. I hope you have fun with this – don’t stress!  Especially if you’re a gardening newbie.  This should be fun, not overwhelming. 🙂

P.P.S You can get an early start on your garden markers by getting some fun ideas from my last blog about DIY Garden Markers!

#1: Review the current year’s Almanac

We carry the Grier’s Almanac (FREE!) and Old Farmer’s Almanac (it’s $6.99) in our store.  These quirky publications have a lot to offer for people who are planning on planting (with a little bit of patience and a good sense of humor) come the next growing season.

You see, quite a bit can be predicted from historical weather patterns.  Also, the phases of the moon exert a large effect on the Earth – if you’re a weather watcher or a fisherman, you know the Earth’s highest and lowest tides are almost always when the moon is full or new.  In Florida, our underground water aquifers are also affected by the moon (and also the sun and the weight of the atmosphere, but that’s another nerdy conversation for another day).  My point is, Almanacs have gathered historical climatology information and combined it with sun and moon charts to give us the best days to plant seeds, harvest crops, and other information on garden care, throughout the whole year.

I do my best to incorporate this information into my garden planning, if at all possible.  I find that when I follow the suggested dates, it makes positive difference in my results! And with the guide, you can schedule garden work into your busy lives by knowing what days it’s best to do everything that needs done in the garden!

 

#3: Decide what you like to eat (or what flowers to grow)

I know I mostly talk about vegetable gardening, because I’m a foodie at heart, but maybe you’re planning for a flower garden (and I highly recommend a good-sized patch of native wildflowers in any garden to help support local pollinators).  “Flowers make the heart joyful, and the gardener humble” is something I once heard a relative of mine say. Whatever it is you’re wanting to plant, take the Zone information from Tip #2 above and make sure that what you want to grow will survive here.

Also, there are certain times of the year to plant certain things. Our Shell’s Feed Garden Guide can help you with that. It’s free in the store when you stop by  We publish one for every 2 months of the year pretty much with instructions on what to plant, and caring for your entire lawn and landscape.  On the back of each one is a guide showing when to plant what, and it includes the most commonly grown veggies for Florida gardens. You can also find more information at the University of Florida’s IFAS website if you have specific questions about a particular type of vegetable or flower.  Try this to start: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/florida-gardening-calendar/  You can also contact our local Hillsborough County IFAS extension office – it’s in Seffner.  https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hillsborough/

 

 

 

#5 Decide what the basic structure of your garden will be.

There are lots of options when you want to create your garden beds.  Traditional farming plants the same crops in large, long rows, and rotates the crops around the field to minimize soil depletion.  Most of us in urban areas don’t have the luxury of many acres, so we have to go with other methods.

Raised beds are very popular in Florida because they offer great drainage and a chance to amend our native soil with lots of organic material like compost, mulched leaves, earthworm castings, chicken/rabbit manure, and more.  You’ll be able to keep the soil from compacting and your root crops like carrots and parsnips will grow longer and better.  They can be custom built to your space and therefore can come in many shapes and sizes.  My best recommendation for you is to not build them so wide that you cannot easily reach the center of the bed while standing or kneeling at the edge – you’ll need to weed periodically and you don’t want to walk inside your garden bed to do it.

If you have a small space, or no space except a patio, then your volume of production may be limited.  But don’t let that discourage you – apartment and condo dwellers can still grow food on their patios and balconies.  I highly recommend Earthboxes for maximum production in the least amount of space; just ask our Earthbox class teacher Susan Roghair – she does EVERYTHING in Earthboxes pretty much, and she has a small backyard that is mostly paved.  (Classes for Spring 2019 coming up February 16 and March 9 – click those dates for your tickets and reserve them today!)

You can, of course, grow food in other containers, and we have all kinds of sizes, from large to small, as well as all the soil and fertilizer you’ll need to make that happen.  Container growing (outside of an Earthbox) takes a little extra care to ensure that you get the production you want, and I covered some of that in a previous blog article here, and also how to prep containers here, so check them out for more information!

If you have a larger back yard, even just a quarter of an acre, you can pretty much grow whatever you like and really bolster your grocery budget and feed your family.  As with raised beds, just make sure you can easily get to all areas of your planned garden without having to walk on your planting soil (or make a paver or mulch path through so that you can weed and thin and fertilize easily throughout the season).

There are also ideas like Square Foot Gardening, on which there are many publications available, that incorporate a specific plan for your raised beds.  I won’t go into it here, but know that it exists and may be a good option for you.  Also, Haybale gardening is increasing in popularity (and it’s something I’m thinking of trying this year!) – no containers, just a completely compostable hay bale that you plant starter plants in!

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

14 Fun DIY Garden Labels

14 Fun DIY Garden Markers
By Marissa

Feeling crafty?  I definitely am. One of my resolutions is to make every single gift I give this year, whether it’s a greeting card or a useful item.  But I do other stuff besides gifts – I am very practical so I make stuff for the garden too. You don’t have to spend money on garden markers unless you just want to. You can make your own!

Have some Winter fun by doing a DIY project in preparation for Spring – making Garden Markers!  It’s January, the time of year for clearing away clutter and deciding whether or not to have a yard sale (or maybe that’s just me?).  While you’re clearing out, and dreaming of getting your hands dirty in the soil again, you can scout for things that could be used again and save them from the landfill.  

Added bonus: Deciding what to put on your markers will help you decide on and get ready for seed planting.  Since you can start seeding inside later this month here in Florida (if you don’t just buy plants from us) making great easy labels now for your seed cells will give you more time then to focus on planting.

Here’s some ideas that don’t take a lot of effort and are really useful!

Garden Labels for Wine Lovers

Do you garden so that you have fresh flavors for your meals to pair with your fav wines?  Then these two garden markers are just for you.

Wine Bottle Garden Labels

How cute is this? Use a wine bottle – or a glass soda bottle – slap a cute label on it – and sink neck-first into the ground.  Presto! Garden marker!

It will make your recycling can less heavy (yay!), and you get the benefit of having a pretty marker in your garden.  If you have more bottles than markers (hey, no judgement from me!) you can make a few extra for a gardening friend.

 Speaking of friends, this project is fun to do with a friend too.  Perhaps you both save some wine bottles for a while, then you can do the labeling project together.  

I find that waterproofing your labels work best – it’s a garden so they’re going to get wet.  You can use a clear vinyl to cover your paper labels – like clear contact paper – or laminate printed labels and glue them on to the bottle.  If you have a Cricut or Silhouette machine, you can make your own labels out of peel-and-stick vinyl and stick them onto the bottles. Whatever you decide, it’s sure to be cute!

Wine Cork Garden Labels

When you have wine, you usually have a cork.  You can use that too! Either use a small dowel to poke into the corkscrew hole you already made when you drank the wine, or use some old forks to pierce the cork!  Either way, the dowel, or fork, goes into the ground and the cork is your label! Not a lot of supplies needed for this one, but I definitely recommend permanent marker.

As an additional idea, I’ve seen some people paint the corks bright colors before labeling so that they’re easier to find in the garden, and/or a coat of glow-in-the-dark so they light up at night.  Use a bright color paint, let it dry, coat of glow if you wish, then write your label name with a permanent marker. After it dries, I highly recommend a couple of coats of Mod Podge Outdoor to keep the labels looking bright and help protect from water damage.  

Clothespin Garden Markers

Clothes Pins make great garden labels too, both for seed trays and for garden rows.  They’re very adaptable! I don’t know about you but I always have random clothespins lying about.  They’re so useful for so many things.

If you’re using them for seed trays, they’re most likely going to be getting wet often.  I think painting the clothespins on the clip end is a good idea, and I would use nail polish in bright colors, and paint the tips, inside and out.  It will help seal the wood and keep it from wicking up moisture out of the soil into the wood (your seeds need the water!).

There’s another option for clothespins too – you can paint them lovely colors, label them, and then clip them to a stick or dowel!  Just like you see below. Then if you have a mixed bed or companion planted areas, you can have multiple labels on one stick.

Twig Garden Labels

Have a good-size twig, a permanent marker, and a sharp knife?  Slice the twig off at the end and use that exposed wood to write your label.  

You can make it more decorative with paint or whatever you like, but really this is all you need.  As you can see in the picture above, it’s kind of like whittling – if you’ve ever done that – but it’s only one slice instead of many.

There’s a very simple one shown to the right.

 

Paint Stick Garden Labels

If you want some slightly larger stick labels that have a wider, flatter surface to decorate, free paint sticks from your local hardware store are your answer.  Example is shown below.

On these, you have room to make the labels bigger, and more readable from a distance.  I recommend painting these with bright colors, and if you’re artsy you can add small images of the crop to the stick.  Paint and decorate both sides of these so that you don’t have to worry about where you’re standing in the garden to see the labels.

Also, if you have a handy vinyl cutting machine, you can cut out word labels and stick them on.  Test it first to make sure the vinyl will stick to the paint.  If not, you could use the same cutter to make a stencil so that your label looks neat and tidy.

Seed Packet Mason Jar Stakes

Another cute idea, do you have some extra jars lying around? (I know I do). 

Staple your seed packet to your stake.

Then use a clear mason jar to cover your seed packet label and protect it from the elements.

One of the spaghetti sauce companies uses kind of square-ish Atlas Mason Jars, those are a great size for this project!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would still paint the wooden spoon a coordinating color first. Then for all spoons add a coat of Mod Podge to the concave side of the spoon, and while it’s wet stick my image (cut to fit) onto it. Let it dry a little bit then add a couple more coats of Mod Podge Outdoor, allowing it to dry in between those coats.

Finally, you can also metal stamp some old metal spoons to make labels out of them – but that’s not a quick process and takes special equipment.  I won’t show it here, but just wanted to mention the possibility!

 

Using Sticks for Garden Labels

Speaking of sticks, you can use any number of different kinds of sticks – both natural and manufactured – to make garden labels.  There are endless possibilities. Because of size, some are more suited for your seed trays and small containers, others can be used for in-ground and larger container plantings.  But really, they’re all useful anywhere in the garden.

 

Popsicle Stick or Tongue Depressor Garden Labels

Did you play with popsicle sticks when you were young? A pack of these, some paint, and some Elmer’s Glue would keep me occupied for hours back then.  Alright, I confess, it still does! The great thing about popsicle sticks is that they are really versatile, and you can make a garden label as simple or as complicated as you want.  If you have someone in the medical professions around, they might have some slightly larger tongue depressors that you could also use.

Another simple but impactful popsicle stick label idea shown below – that’s just some glue, paint, and probably some metallic permanent markers making those so cute!

Seed Packet Stake Garden Labels

Instead of painting your garden stake labels, you could use your seed packets.  

Slip the packet onto the stake and glue to attach.  To make the seed packet label last longer, cover the packet with clear contact paper, after it’s attached to the stake, making sure to seal the sticky edges together on all sides as best you can.

 

Spoon Garden Labels

Do you have a broken wooden spoon? Or just some old ones that got a bit funky and you’ve been thinking about throwing them out? Don’t toss them!  Repurpose them!!

Wooden spoons make a great surface to paint and write on to label your beloved garden.  As with the sticks, paint a bright color and use permanent marker to label.

For more advanced craftiness, any old spoon (wood, metal, etc) also supports decoupage – Mod Podge again (I’m obsessed with the stuff) – you could use the picture of what you’re growing from the seed packet and decorate the spoon with it, or draw your own picture if you like.   

  

Painted Bricks, Pots, & Rocks

 

Finally, painting rocks or bricks or pottery is a great way to have more permanent labels.

Recently I’ve been enjoying making rock paintings.  I do it for decoration, but also use inspiring words on some to remind me of the greatness that life has to offer.  You can take this idea to the garden and use painted rocks to label your beds.

Acrylic paints or paint markers work best for this.  You’ll want to protect your paintings with Mod Podge Outdoors (yes…I know…I said it again – they don’t even pay me.)

 

 

 

 

Finally, small terra cotta pots can be used to top stakes and label your plantings.  You can either paint the whole pot or just write on it with paint or permanent marker.

 

Alright, I think there’s a bunch here to work with.  It would be fun to mix and match your labels – a few rocks here, a few stakes there, a couple of wine bottles too.  So, get to crafting, and show me your pics!

Thanks for reading, and Happy 2019!

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

 

Milk Jug and Plastic Garden Labels

 

Yep, you can get out the utility scissors and cut plastic pieces out of used milk jugs or empty plastic salad greens boxes and make labels.  This is recycling at its finest.

I’m showing a milk jug example, but really any plastic packaging that is long enough to make stakes will do – plastic tub lids, plastic clamshell packaging from produce or other products, butter tubs, whatever!

You can use the bottom “dishes” as water catchers for small pots too. Win!

 

You can also use old bricks or pieces of them and paint a label on them as well.  Concrete block can be painted on too! (not shown)

 

Can Lid Labels

 

Using a paint stick or other stake, and some string or floral wire, you can use can lids from open tin cans to make garden labels.  You can even use old wire coathangers to make the stake and hanger for the lid label.

A permanent marker, grease marker, or paint marker will work for this (the grease marker might be hard if the can is coated in plastic).  Make your label, or stick one on (like decoupage! Told you I was obsessed), and attach to a stake. I personally prefer to use a hot glue gun to attach (if not using a wire hanger to make the hook to hang the label on), and I like to have one on each side of the stake as well.

P.S. Images used in this article are from the internet, and I tried whenever possible to leave the site labels on the images for crediting purposes.  I have done most of these in the past, but don’t have pictures of my own to share, that’s why I chose to use others!

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

2019: Resolutions For You and More

2019: Resolutions For You and More
By Marissa

As we jump head first into 2019, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions and why we make them at the beginning of the year.  My hope is to inspire you with some history and maybe a slightly different perspective.

I also am sneaking a peek ahead to things that are coming up for all of you here at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply.  We’re excited to be adding or expanding upon some new things that we know you’ll enjoy, and that will help you. I also wanted to highlight some of the great resources we already offer you, in case you haven’t discovered them yet.

But first:

Speaking of traditions, are you making Hoppin’ John to eat on 1/1/19? That simple tasty dish of black-eyed peas is said to bring you good fortune all year if eaten New Year’s Day.  I know I’ll be making some.

What other New Year’s traditions do you have in your family?

Resolutions:  Why do we make them?

The practice of resolutions is taken from the concept that the year represents the span of one lifetime of “Father Time” – he is a baby on New Year’s Day, and an Old Man on December 31st, who passes on at Midnight to be replaced by the New Year Babe. Each year is the lifetime of the “Brothers of Time”, as the years are all “related”, in a sense.  Considering that, could you imagine having 2,018 brothers? Fun to think about.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day is a tradition passed from our pagan ancestors, who made material offerings to the god Janus for a prosperous and healthy year.  The month of January is named after this ancient deity. 

On New Year’s Day, think of your life as being renewed, like a newborn baby.  Being newly born means that you have your whole life ahead of you, and you can make anything happen during the time that we have on this Earth from here forward.  The concept, really this frame of mind, allows you a new chance to define yourself, be “resolved” to change things about yourself that you want to be better about, and to release the bonds that hold you back from anything you want to accomplish.  At the New Year you can decide to shed your past, shrug off grief and malaise, take a deep breath, and truly walk forward again, in full control of your own destiny.

How cool is that?

People joke about resolutions, and how nobody actually achieves them, they’re just a way for advertisers to make money off of your vulnerability at the passage of time. I think that if you are determined, and really put your mind to it, nothing can stop the human spirit. And I love nothing more than rising above the status quo and popular opinion. Being average isn’t any fun.

Another tick on the date calendar reminds us of how fast time goes by rather pointedly, and poignantly, this time of year.  But really, the creation of resolutions are based on a kind of magic from our pagan ancestors who believed in the inner power of themselves and their spirit relationships to the earth, elements, and sky. So when you achieve something you resolved to do, you are, by proxy, a magical being! (OK, maybe I’m stretching a bit – but I’ve always wanted to have a bit of magic working for me…haven’t you?)

My point is, I know I have never underestimated the power of a determined child.  As it is a new year, and you are “reborn,” you now have another chance to be that determined child and follow your own path.

I’ll share my resolutions with you, and I hope you’ll share yours with me.  My path this year – aside from doing work for the store and making us better equipped for the digital age, is for me to actively spend time creating things that I love.  Sewing, crochet, and crafting is one way I do that, writing is another. I really enjoy making something useful out of the materials around me.

Also this year I’m going to do more of something that I shared with my father, who passed on many years ago.  I want to spend significant time doing the work to grow food to provide for my family and share with my friends.  If you’ve read my blog from the beginning, you know that my father was a subsistence farmer in North Florida, grew what he ate and ate what he grew, traded the rest to a neighbor who raised pigs and chickens for meat, eggs, and composted manure. He also raised worms and fished the plentiful lakes up there. So I will be making efforts to spend time in the dirt every day, doing what needs to be done to have a garden flourish.  I’m excited and anticipate having lots to share with you, I hope you’ll share your adventures with me too.

Join me in growing something of your own – even if it’s just one tomato plant, or one sunflower.  Growing something yourself has a sense of satisfaction that is hard to find anywhere else. It acknowledges the beauty of new life and the cycle of living things as it sprouts, grows, matures, fruits, and eventually is spent and returns to the Earth to start the cycle all over again.

Just like Father Time on New Year’s Eve night.

So let’s look at some resources we have for you right now that can help you on your own journeys through this next year, especially if you have resolutions to garden, raise chickens, or take better care of your pets.

The Chicken Report

I post the chickens we get in each week on our website.  The post is made on Saturday mornings because we usually don’t get our chickens until Thursday or Friday during the week.  The link is: shellsfeed.com/chicken-report.  Make sure to bookmark it and check every week to see what’s new!  I also post a reminder message on social media about the list update – usually with a cute picture of chickens – first thing Saturday morning. Make sure you join us on Social media so you don’t miss an announcement!

 

Garden Guides

We publish garden guides in-store throughout most of the year that tell you what to grow when, as well as what maintenance and feeding need to be done to maintain your lawn, landscape, and gardens.  They are based on information from UF/IFAS and county extension offices for the areas we serve as well as the USDA Agricultural Zone (which we serve areas considered 9a, 9b, 10a). Our next one comes out in Spring, but we still have copies available for previous months.  They’re great to have for your garden notebook to refer to when you’re planning your garden. They are a free resource, ask for them when you come in.

 

Free Community Seed Swaps

We took a break for the Winter, but the free Community Seed Swaps will be back, starting in February.  We started doing these in August of 2018, and the community really responded! Bring something to trade – seeds, cuttings, seedlings, potted plants – whatever grows! – and leave with new goodies that you trade with other gardeners.  We hold it on a Saturday morning from 8:30am – 10:30am once a month. Keep a lookout for flyers in the store, online social media messages, and join our Facebook group for the swappers so that we can all talk to each other! More information about how a seed swap works is here:  https://shellsfeed.com/monthly-community-seed-swap/ They are a great place to meet with your friends and neighbors who garden, you can get advice, swap stories, and have coffee and treats too.

 

Shell’s Workshop Series

Also in August, we started offering workshops at the store for various things.  I want to bring you great content that you’ll be interested in, and engage with.  Our most successful class was the How To Plant an Earthbox class, and it was wonderful.  We plan on doing another one in February, so don’t miss that! Stay tuned for dates. Everyone had a fabulous time – our teacher, Susan, is a real hoot!  More details to come soon for the Spring 2019 class, and other classes to come.

The Learning Center

I created this area on our website quite awhile ago, and it’s constantly “under construction” because really, when do we ever stop learning? There’s some useful stuff in here, so check it out!  The Learning Center

 

 

Buy Online, Pick Up In Store

We are working to add all of our inventory to our online store so that you can order and have it waiting for you to pick up.  Currently our selection in the webstore is limited, but by the end of January my goal is to have all inventory appear there, along with an upgrade to our webstore payment system.  Initially, all products will only be available as a “buy online pickup in store” option, which can be super helpful – you can place an order on your lunch break and swing by on your way home to pick up!

I’ll be posting a bit about my adventures here on the blog throughout the year, so I’ll update you as progress happens with that.  In the meantime, tell me what you’re looking for from us in terms of learning opportunities, workshops, etc., that we can do for you!  I’m listening.

Thanks, and Happy New Year to all of you!  We are entering our 58th year serving Tampa, and we couldn’t have made it this far without you!

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

 

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

Growing Florida Strawberries in Containers: The Pro Edition

Growing Florida Strawberries in Containers: The Pro Edition
By Marissa

We know that when it comes to gardening in Florida, so many people are gardening in very small spaces, like balconies, patios, or tiny yards. We like to call this urban farming!

Container gardening makes growing food easier in so many ways, but in other aspects growing in containers presents its own challenges. In my opinion, the challenges are easy to overcome, and the benefits far outweigh the extra little things you have to plan for to be successful at growing food in containers. If you know how to approach it right, containers can make some things possible to grow at home that you haven’t before.

Growing these tasty berries can be possible wherever you have space and 8 hours of sunshine! Actually, many of these tips can be used to grow any food or edible plants in containers too. We talked with Rob Clemons from Bob’s Berries in Riverview for some extra great info from an all-natural organic berry farmer so that you have the best foot forward to get your own berries at home.

A Little About Strawberries

In our previous strawberry article, we talked about how to prep and plant delicious strawberries in the Florida climate – complete with a few extra tips and tricks from our own gardens. Much of what we have to talk about here is the same, but tweaked for container life.

Strawberries are hardy little plants. The plant itself is an herb, and the berries are fruit, of course. Strawberries are the only fruit that have seeds on the outside of the skin!

Why Plant in Fall?

As you know, temperatures during the Spring and Summer in Florida are REALLY warm. Strawberry plants are prone to heat intolerance – they just don’t handle the stifling 90+ degree days that we have during that time very well. They wilt from the water evaporation out of the soil, and the leaves burn from the sun. That’s no way to treat a friend, right?

Fall is the answer. The weather is still warm for the planting phase when roots and leaves are developing. Declining temperatures as the Fall season cools off keep them from burning, and pests are less active. It’s the perfect time of year for your plants to treat you with delicious fruit..

Why Plant in Containers?

Container growing has several advantages to make homegrown strawberries and fruits possible:

  • Less weeds to pull – plus you can easily cover the soil to keep weeds out.
  • Less pests to deal with.
  • You can monitor their sun exposure and easily move them if they get too much, or too little. It’s so much simpler to pick up and move a pot than your whole garden!
  • You completely control their root ecosystem: soil, water and food – all the things that they require to live and thrive.
  • You can move the plants when a freeze is predicted to protect them from freeze damage, too. There is a blog article in our archives about protecting from a freeze here.
  • Native soils can carry diseases and/or organisms that cause damage to the plants, so containers with new soil protect them from these problems.

On the other hand, there can also be challenges to overcome:

  • Containers tend to drain faster than the ground, so you may need to water more often.
  • Containers cannot dissipate heat as well as the ground, so the roots get hotter than plants in the ground, especially if the container attracts and holds heat (like concrete). The same goes for cold temperatures, too.
  • In general, container plants need more food than plants in the ground, so ensuring that they keep producing will require a little more maintenance than ground beds.
  • Native soils can carry beneficial microbes that help the plant take in nutrients more efficiently, which the soil in containers won’t have (unless you add them!).

To container plant or not to container plant? Really, it’s up to you. What’s that old saying? You don’t know until you try it.

What could be a container for a strawberry plant?

There are LOTS of kinds of containers out there, for sure. There are so many varieties I’ve seen work just fine, so it comes up to your choice:

Much of your decision on container type depends on what you want to do with your plants. Consider things like how many plants you are growing, where they will be growing, and if you know you need to move them, how big they can be to be able to lift them when they are filled with wet dirt.

Of course, some containers, like the “gutter growers” shown are meant to be set up like long racks of plants and left in place. The berries cascade over the sides, making growing virtually weed-free and picking really easy. This is how Rob Clemons of Bob’s Berries does his U-Pick strawberry area, and he has great success with the system that he has built – all chemical and pesticide free! It’s so exciting to see his farm, I highly recommend a visit for strawberry or blueberry picking! His strawberries are so delicious we were hungry for all his tips and hints for growing the best fruit, including and beyond container tips.

How many should I plant in my container?

You will want to make sure you don’t overcrowd your strawberries. In an Earthbox, for example, it is recommended to grow only 6 plants in that space so that the root balls can extend enough to get all the nutrition they need to grow flowers and eventually fruit. I would recommend that if you have a 1 gallon pot, for example, you only grow a maximum of 1 plant in that pot, maybe 2 if you feed them enough. An Earthbox holds close to 2.5 cubic feet of soil, which is more than plenty for 6 plants.

Strawberry jars with gaps on the sides make it easy – plant one plant per gap in the side and two in the top.

If you have questions about how many to plant in a pot you already have, reach out to us, we’ll be happy to answer your questions so that you’re set up for strawberry success.

What kind of soil should I use in my containers?

We asked Rob from Bob’s Berries a few questions about how he plants his strawberries:

“Drainage is the most important factor in strawberry growing in general. It is important that they are well watered and that water doesn’t sit around at the root zone. They are very susceptible to root rot.”

When I inspected his growing medium I saw that pine bark made up a lot of it, so I think that’s a good tip too! Pine bark provides good drainage, and it breaks down fast to provide a growing medium to anchor roots to as well.

How do I feed and water my strawberries in containers?

Because most containers are watered from the top, and the water flows down and out of the drainage holes, fertilizer in the soil tends to deplete quickly. You have several options for fertilizing your strawberries. These tips are based on a 1 gallon pot, so adjust the amounts for larger containers:

  • Mix some in the soil at planting time – I recommend a small handful or trowel-full of slow-release fertilizer for mixing into the soil, so that your plants have some sustained food available through most of the initial growth and development stage.
  • Mix a palmful into the top inch or two of soil when the plant starts to flower.
  • Mix a palmful into the top inch or two of soil when the plant starts to fruit.

Your plant will probably go through several cycles of flowering and fruiting, make sure they are fed well during these times like the above steps for great sweet strawberries throughout the season.

Rob shared the following tips about feeding as well:

“Initially it is important to feed plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus to help it grow nice green foliage and strong roots” (Tiger Bloom from FoxFarm has this high phosphorus NPK profile and can be really helpful!). Then you want to go to a fertilizer with high potassium like a liquid kelp to aid in flower and fruit production. Many growers stray away from nitrogen during fruit production because it makes the berries soft and not well suited for packing and shipping but if you’re not doing anything like that, it’s totally fine to continue feeding low doses of nitrogen throughout. Micro nutrients are also very important and will increase mineral density and thus make the fruit sweeter.”

If you are working with the Earthbox, it has its own planting guide. It’s a sub-irrigation grower, which means it’s watered from the bottom and has its own set of rules. We recommend Shell’s Strawberry Fertilizer for Earthbox planting. We love Earthboxes, and if you ever want to know anything about them, just ask. And keep a look out for the Earthbox class we’ll have in the Spring and the Fall (the one for this year already happened – and it was great fun!).

How do I keep pests away?

We asked Rob for his regimen, since his berry garden is all-natural. He advised:

“Aphids, army worms, and crown borers are voracious and detrimental to the health of young plants. For that reason it’s a good idea to use a broad spectrum pesticide on a regular basis until they are well established. We like to alternate neem oil and BT to keep these issues at bay throughout the first month of planting.”

If you’re wanting to see more from Bob’s Berries, check out their website. He wanted our readers to know:

“We are an all chemical and pesticide free farm using only natural products and organic fertilizers. We hope to begin harvesting strawberries around January and through the use of shade cloth, continue harvesting until end of April. At that point blueberry season will be upon us which will last until end of May.”

Any extra tips?

Sure, there’s lots. Definitely more than we can print here. But we’re always happy to answer questions if you have them.

We have a Strawberry growers guide available at the store, and for those of you who ordered your plug plants from us you’ll get a guide when you pick up your order. If you didn’t order from us, well, I’m sure we can still find one for you.

Also, I think you should know that most of the time, your very first berries from your new plants will be a bit deformed. That is totally normal. They’re called “monkey-face” berries because often they look like little chimpanzee faces. Not always of course. You might see a totally different animal…or maybe your sibling…when you look at your berries. They’re still tasty, though, so enjoy them despite their looks!

 

Have fun with gardening – the rewards are so very sweet!

Thanks,

Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

I’m an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 

The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener.” Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they’re delicious!)  Thanks for reading!

Special thank you to Abby’s Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

Back to School Fall Project: Simple Container Planting

Back to School Fall Project: Simple Container Planting
By Marissa

It’s back-to-school time, so that means it’s back to the crazy school schedule. Finding a little time to give your patio or front door area a little curb appeal might be a little tough with all of the demands that school season has on our time. I wanted to give you some easy ideas to get you excited about some great combinations that can have a dual purpose – making your containers less of a chore, more useful, and more fun! 

Container Crash-Course

Constructing containers has evolved from a place to stuff a bunch of flowers to an art form in only a few decades. You don’t need to be an artist to make great containers – most of them follow a similar pattern! Most containers have a few different shapes in them: an upright, a broad, and a trailing plant. Upright shape is a plant that grows mainly vertical, like ornamental grasses. A broad shape is something that grows upwards a little but then grows outward as well. Trailing shapes are, you guessed it, plants that spill over the sides of a container like a waterfall. Most containers can be made by mixing and matching plants to fill each of these elements, though of course you don’t have to, either.

All of this sounds dreadfully technical and specific, but I promise it’s not that hard. It’s actually easy to make a container that is pretty as well as functional! Read on to see what I mean.

Fall Container Idea #1: Insect-repelling Container

Your pretty planters in your hangout space can be more than just a pop of color – they can earn their keep by helping to keep pesky biting insects away too. Three great container plants you can use to give you color and insect protection are Lavender (upright shape), Geraniums (broad shape, but some varieties do trail a bit), and Marigolds (also broad).

Each of these flowers grow well in the milder fall (and spring) weather here in Florida, and the coming days of cooler temperatures really help them last a long time – keep them dead-headed and they’ll bloom past Thanksgiving! Plus, you can use the lavender as potpourri in the house or to make crafts like soaps and teas.

The color palette for these containers really speak of fall – mix and match geraniums in red, scarlet, or orange to compliment the red, orange, or yellow of the marigolds. The Lavender will have the silvery stems and foliage to really pop in the middle of that arrangement and the purple flower heads compliment the other flowers as well.

Fall Container Idea #2: Garnish Garden

Some of my favorite container gardens are full of herbs. Among my favorites, some of the best fall flavors in the herb family are Rosemary, Mint, and Parsley. They have so many uses and taste amazing – and these herbs work overtime as garnishes to give that touch of finesse to any of your holiday party dishes.

Rosemary is an evergreen that has an upright habit, so it would be planted in the middle. Parsley can also grow quite tall, but it also tends to spread out – and if you’re using it in comfort foods like soups, stews, or even just your morning eggs, you’ll be snipping it back pretty regularly so it won’t get so “leggy”. There are many varieties of mint, but most of them will trail out and down the sides (and will root in the ground and spread if you’re not careful, so use up that mint as it grows!)

The contrast of the pine-like rosemary foliage with the fan-leaf or crinkle-leaf parsley is super eye-catching. Add the light greens and soft texture of the mint family and you can really make this all-green arrangement shine. The container can be as simple or fun as you want by mixing in however many different flavors, colors, and textures of the leafy herbs as you’d like.

I like to take some fun whimsical things, like fairies or gnomes, and place them in and amongst the greenery…they stare at me until I trim their garden and use it in my cooking!

Fall Container Idea #3: Cabbage Kingdom

Cabbages are so much more versatile than most people give them credit for – usually coleslaw is the first thing that comes to mind, or the traditional Irish corned beef & cabbage. But did you know that there is such thing as ornamental cabbages? Yep, they come in all kinds of colors, and they are really hardy, often lasting through Winter until the Florida weather gets too hot.

Of course, edible Cabbages are beautiful too – they have greenish-silver leaves, or bright purple leaves, which works really well for fall. Combine with another plant in the same family as Cabbage, Kale, and you can really make a great textural planter with lots of color. If you don’t like Kale, that’s ok, there are nearly endless leafy options to suit your taste. Maybe you can use the smaller plant like Spinach, or Bok Choi to give you a nice green broad shape and rich color. For your tall plant that also can have a trailing habit, and also has LOTS of color, throw one or two complimentary types of coleus in there.

You can get super creative here – my Plant-o-gram will get you started with the basics, but you’ll likely want to experiment to see what’s perfect for you.

You Have Permission to Play

The most important thing to know about container gardening is this: If something isn’t working, or it doesn’t look right to you – YOU CAN CHANGE IT. You can move plants to another container, or remove them altogether. Containers are miniature gardens that we get to play in to find what works for us. I’m happy to start you off with some plant-o-grams but encourage you to explore beyond them to find the perfect combinations for you and your family.

They Will Need Nutrients

Container plants have much less soil to pull from than your traditional garden, so you have to feed them fertilizer a little more than you would a tree or a bush in the ground. Follow instructions on the fertilizer you choose, and we hope you choose the Shell’s-branded formulations, because we worked really hard to make those to work best specifically for Florida gardens and conditions…even container gardens. Call us or stop in for more information!

I personally love container gardening (it’s most of the gardening I do), and when I’m not working I’m usually out on the porch playing with my plants. They’re the best way to play with what you love and want more of at home, and are a fun way to make a pretty statement that helps out around the house, too.

Thanks for reading!

Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

Easy Eating: Top Container Garden Recipes

Top Container Garden Recipes

By Marissa

Container gardens can be an amazing substitute for not having lots of property to farm. Many folks who live in apartments or those who don’t necessarily want to till the soil in their yard or build a large raised bed can still eat garden fresh food from a container garden.

All of the containers below have a few things in common:
1. They need about 8 hours a day of sunshine.
2. They will need daily watering, good drainage, and a tray reservoir underneath the container to hold extra water for the plant to drink in the heat of the day. The soil community you are building is dynamic and deeply intertwined, and water powers all of it!
3. They require LARGE containers. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers have pretty extensive root systems, and thus need more soil to keep them upright and also properly nourished.
4. The plants will require a support system to keep the climbing plants upright. Use cages for tomatoes, stakes for peppers, trellis for cucumbers.

Salsa Garden

Let’s start with one of my favorites, the Salsa Garden. In one container you can grow almost all of the ingredients you’ll need for a great salsa. In Florida, we don’t get to grow garlic because it’s too hot (I don’t know about you, but I like garlic in my salsa), and onions really grow best when planted in our Winter growing season, when the other main salsa ingredients don’t grow very well. Sad, but true. However, you could try to grow green onions for that garlicky/oniony flavor in a separate protected area and see if they’re a replacement that works for you.

As you can see in the Plant-o-gram, the tomato plant is kind of isolated on one side of the container. This is because the tomato has the largest root system, so giving it some space is important. The shade of the tomato and peppers will help the cilantro and parsley cope with the heat of the Florida summer. This will help keep it from bolting so quickly. The key will be to harvest as much of these herbs as you can before they bolt, and either dry them or find another way to store them until you use them in your salsa and other cooking.

Side note: If you decide to do a Salsa Verde garden, you’ll need 2 tomatillo plants. Eliminate the tomato and red bell pepper and replace with tomatillos so that they will pollinate properly and give you fruit.

The 3 Sisters

This plant-o-gram was begun by our ancient Native American cultures. They found that these three plants when planted together were all mutually beneficial to each other. 1) Corn supports the bean vines as they grow towards the sun; 2) beans pull nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil for use by all three sisters, and also hold the garden together as they intertwine; and 3) the squash’s leaves provide a natural mulch, shading the ground and helping to prevent weeds, and also keeping the raccoons at bay with their prickly bristles. The 3 Sisters container is the only one that doesn’t need to have any additional support structures added, and with the relationship of the three plants, they will all support each other physically and nutritionally. Give it a try!

Please Note: Your corn, in order to produce ears, will need to be hand-pollinated. Here is a great guide to hand-pollinating corn. If the pollination doesn’t occur this way, most likely you will not get any corn from your plant, but you will still have a nice corn-stalk support for your beans and a pretty plant to look at.

Salad Mix

This Salad Mix is as utilitarian as it is delicious. The sun-loving cucumbers, which would need to be grown on a hoop trellis or a teepee structure, help shade the lettuce growing underneath it (lettuce is a cool weather crop). I recommend leaf lettuces for this container, or small head lettuce like buttercrunch because larger iceberg and romaine won’t have enough room to grow in a container like this. Radishes, which produce an odor which discourages pests, are very quick to produce their tasty roots, so you can plant and harvest multiple radish crops, while the cucumbers are still flowering and producing fruit. Leaf lettuce can be harvested from the outside leaves in towards the center (crown), just don’t cut off too many leaves at once or the plant won’t be able to generate enough energy to continue growing (I leave at least the first 3 rows of leaves from the center on at all times, or leave 6 fully developed leaves total minimum). Of course, if you’re growing head lettuce, it should be harvested all at once.

Here’s a couple of additional tips:

• Containers don’t have the benefit of an entire open soil base ecosystem to grow in, so you will have to supplement the plants with more nutrients than if they were growing in the ground. You can do this with a slow-release fertilizer so you don’t have to apply as often, or if using organic methods, apply organic fertilizer at planting, when the plants start flowering, and again when they start to produce fruit. Also, a compost tea applied when watering is a great supplement to organic soil amendments placed when planting.
• Monitor your containers for pests on a constant basis, so if there is a problem you can catch it early before it spreads to the rest of the container.

Other Growing and Container Options

If where you live just doesn’t have the right conditions to grow these containers, fear not: you can easily get involved in a community garden (we have several here in Tampa!) and grow a plot there with the same plans…maybe even expand them a bit! Here are some of them for your reference – we LOVE community gardens!

Abby’s Organic Community Farm – Shell’s Feed has been a sponsor of Abby’s farm project for several years, including providing chickens and chicken supplies
Temple Terrace Community Garden – with several garden plot locations now, this community is thriving and growing (pun intended!)
Seminole Heights Community Garden – a long-standing garden in the awesome community of Seminole Heights
Tampa Heights Community Garden – a great community project
University Area Harvest Hope Center – this project is just getting started! See how you can help.
VISTA Gardens – this is a joint venture between Carrollwood residents and Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation
Sustainable Living Project – Not exactly a community garden, but this is a project in conjunction with Tampa Bay Harvest that utilizes community volunteerism to grow good fresh food for people in need. It is a great place to LEARN about gardening and sustainability while donating time and effort to a good cause.

Did I miss a local community garden? Leave a comment or message us on Facebook!
Thanks,
Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

I'm an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 
The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, "If you're not killing plants, you're not stretching yourself as a gardener." Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they're delicious!)  Thanks for reading!
Special thank you to Abby's Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell's Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

Container Prep for Fall Planting & Infographic

It’s nearly fall, and in Florida that means it’s about time for the bonus round – an extra growing season that our northern neighbors don’t get.  With few exceptions, we really can grow food year-round!  And many of us grow container crops.   So many things grow really well in containers that in a limited-space urban setting like Tampa, planting this way just makes sense for many gardeners.

Here’s a helpful infographic I put together today to prep for Fall Container Gardening.

As always, if you need help, advice on what to plant, or supplies for this project, feel free to stop in, ask a question in the comments below, and/or contact us.

Container Gardening Preparation

container gardening preparation

Let me know what you think about the infographic – is it helpful? Would you like another one for something else? I’m all ears!  And, they’re kinda fun to make.  🙂

Thanks,

Marissa, Director of Communications

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.