14 Garden Edibles that Beat the Florida Summer Heat

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)

Southern Cow Pea pod with 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.

Everglades Tomatoes

Florida Everglades Tomato – not a native – but Naturalized!

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.

Jerusalem Artichoke

The flowers and tubers of the Jerusalem Artichoke, or Sunchoke.

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

Jicama is a wonderful way to get fiber and Vitamin C!

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.

Katuk

Katuk, growing commercially in this picture.

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

Beautiful Malabar Spinach

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

Moringa – the Miracle Tree

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?

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums growing along a bed border – beautiful!

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.

Okra

Okra stands tall against the heat – it takes all the sun and LOVES IT.

We talked about okra previously as being a superstar in the Summer garden in my article about Summer gardening from about a month ago. The flowers of okra are pale yellow with a red center on most varieties, really quite spectacular.

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.

Peanuts

Peanuts are a flowering legume that grow their edible parts underground!

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!

Peppers

Beautiful Bolivian Rainbow Peppers are edible and ornamental!

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

Purslane grows wild in Florida – do you see it in your yard?

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

Sweet potato vines have sweet little purple flowers – bees love them!

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!

Yard-Long Beans

Holy moly, those are some LONG beans! And they’re tasty, too!

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.

Mint

Mint should probably be kept in pots – it will take over the yard! I think that’s ok, but…

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!

See you next time,

Marissa

Guide to Your Florida Summer Garden

shells feed garden supply tampa florida guide to summer garden

Are you feeling it yet? That blistering white-hot H-E-A-T that signals that Summer is actually here already?

Yeah, me too. It’s starting to feel like a muggy oven out there, and actually, the heat can be dangerous if you don’t stay covered and hydrated appropriately. I know if I overheat and don’t drink enough water I get “wicked headaches” (borrowed that term from a Boston friend). So don’t do that!!

Peppers and small tomatoes are a summer treat!

For most gardeners, summertime is a time to move some plants to areas that get a bit of afternoon shade, and to pull other plants out entirely when they can’t take the heat. I know that my compost pile is happy at this time of year. It’s also a brutal time if you’re battling powdery mildew (on top of the leaf), downy mildew (under the leaf), or other such funguses. Even if you’re only watering in the mornings so the sun can dry your crops, afternoon showers can ruin that attempt to keep your plant leaves dry and leave them soaking wet all night long…and you’ve lost Battle Fungus.

I’m not complaining – the weather here is actually why we have such success growing food, ornamentals, shrubs, & trees. But learning how to adapt to the weather we’re given is a key strategy for gardening success. Funny thing is…the rules change every single year. But there are some general Summertime planting guidelines that will help you get through the season that feels like we’re sitting on the surface of the sun!

Summer Gardening Tip #1 – Let The Healthy Spring Crops Keep Producing

Just because it’s Summer doesn’t mean that you necessarily MUST pull a plant. If the plant is healthy, disease-free, and still producing flowers, edible leaves, fruits, and/or veggies, let it be. Keep taking care of it, harvesting as needed, treating for pests as needed (hand-picking, organic, or regular methods all apply).

Eggplants can do well in the heat.

As we transition from Spring to Summer, worms become a huge issue, and you’ll need to be diligent picking them off and/or applying BT regularly.

Some of the crops that might transition well from Spring to Summer include:

  • Tomatoes, especially the smaller cherry, grape, and Everglades Florida Native variety tomatoes
  • Eggplants
  • Peppers – from Sweet Bells to Mild Poblano Anchos, to Jalapenos, Habeneros, Serranos and more, peppers have always grown really well for me in the Summertime.
  • Georgia Collards – they were REALLY hard to get ahold of this year from our grower (they had some issues with powdery mildew and had to discontinue them), but if you were lucky enough to pick up some Collards in early February from our plant shelves, they’re still producing great greens right now.
  • Onions – you can still grow great green and bulbing onions this time of year. Want some onion-growing tips? Here you go.
  • Sunflowers and some other annuals, such as marigolds, geraniums, pentas, pom pom flowers, zinnias, sunpatiens (in partial to full shade), coleus (in full shade), and some types of begonias too.
  • Woody-stemmed herbs like Rosemary and English Thyme (I know that last one is debateable, but my English Thyme grows really well partially shaded).
  • Herbs in the Mint Family – if not potted they can become aggressive, so they’re pretty hardy!! These include Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, and Catnip, among others.
Collards loving the sun.

Summer Gardening Tip #2 – Plant for the Heat

Maybe this seems obvious, maybe it doesn’t. This time of year, big box stores will sell you winter/early Spring crops, because they don’t really care that those plants most likely won’t survive. So, things like lettuces, broccoli, leafy greens & herbs, cabbages, squash, and more are sold to you in May in Florida, when their chances of survival are slim, at best. Don’t fall for it, unless you’re a really experienced gardener or have a microclimate in your yard that allows for survival of these delicate plants!

Lettuces for the most part are too fragile for the heat and would require almost constant shade this time of year to even possibly survive. Broccoli, cabbages, and many leafy greens require cold to be flavorful, which is why they make great winter crops. And with the heat, these plants will sing their final opera and send up their flower shoots and go to seed right away, seeing the writing on the wall…or rather, the thermometer.

Sunflowers dazzle in the heat of day.

For Summer, there are still some great crops you can grow, and you should!!

  • Sunflowers and native wildflowers will grow really well in our regular soil (without amending – but a top dressing of compost is really helpful!). If you’re looking to produce Sunflower Seeds, we have a lot of options for you, including bulk seed that has a decent germination rate, come check out our selection! Both of these are great for our local butterflies and pollinators. See flawildflowers.org for more details and species that will help!
  • Okra is a high-heat rock star, producing beautiful flowers followed by many, many tender pods for eating or pickling (pick them young – they get very tough when they’re older!). They will produce well even in 100+ degree heat – just make sure they are sufficiently watered! They are water hogs, and you’ll see why when you plant them – they make enormously thick stalks!
  • Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are awesome nitrogen-fixers for the soil – you can grow them all summer, eat the delicious peas, and then till the stalks/leaves under a couple of weeks before your fall planting.
  • Sweet potatoes LOVE the heat and will flourish all summer. You can eat the youngest tender leaves in salad, a bonus treat for you while you wait on the tubers to finish up at the first cold snap in the Fall/Winter. Need more sweet potato growing tips? Take a look here.
Okra is some of the most beautiful, and prolific, plants in the summer veggie garden.

Summer Gardening Tip #3 – Increase Your Watering As Needed & Cover Soil to Hold Water

Your plants will need more water as it gets hotter, just like us humans. And just like our own skin, when a plant gets too hot, their leaf pores open and they release water vapor to cool the air immediately around them. If they don’t have enough water to replace what they release, they will wilt, which is characterized by leaves shriveling and stems bending/curling.

Watering is key to a healthy summer garden.

One of the ways to help plants hold on to some of the water from your irrigation is to mulch over the soil to help cool the soil and prevent evaporation from the sun. This can be done with compost, wood mulch, pine straw (fresh), dry leaves, hay, etc. Covering the soil is one of the key concepts of the Earthbox system – and one of the reasons these boxes are so successful. In a ground garden or raised bed, your mulch can be tilled under at your next planting, adding organic material to your soil that will break down over time and provide a steady stream of nutrients to your plants as well as increase water retention. Over time, continuing to add organic materials to your soil will make your garden area soil very nutrient dense and loamy, and less sandy.

Another way to conserve water is to use an organic-grower safe product called Hydretain. Hydretain, when applied in your next watering, helps bind water to the roots of your plants/turf/ornamentals and keeps it available to the plants for longer. It can save up to 50% of your normal irrigation water usage – it’s completely worth it, and really helps with that late-afternoon wilt that is so prevalent in Florida Summer gardens.

Some larger tomatoes take the heat and run with it! Just make sure they’ve got water!

Summer Gardening Tip #4 – Observe & Report

Ever been part of a neighborhood watch group? The police contact for a neighborhood watch group will tell you that your job as a participant is to observe and report.

Well, it’s the same for your garden. Observe your garden daily, and at different times of day, to see where the sun and shade areas are, what plants wilt in the afternoon, what plants are no longer producing fruits and can be pulled, etc.

A garden journal is a helpful tool for this – if you’ve read my blog over time you’ll see this suggestion often because it’s really great to have records of what works, what didn’t, and brilliant ideas that come to you over your gardening career.

Simple example of a garden journal.

Summer Gardening Tip #5 – Solarize if You’ve Got Soil Issues

So, your garden got Fusarium Wilt, or Root-Knot Nematodes, or is just overrun with a horrendous invasive weed problem. Or, it’s just too dang hot to be out there working in the veggie garden.

One thing you can do to use that heat and eliminate those problems is to Solarize your soil. I wrote an article about that some time ago, and I invite you to go see it now if you’re interested in the particulars. Solarize Your Soil.

Note: You don’t need to Solarize your soil if you don’t have problems that are soil-borne. Solarizing will sterilize the top couple of inches of your soil, including the good organisms, so only use it if you’ve been overrun with problems.

Do you have any great Summer gardening tips? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

I hope this article was helpful to you for navigating our fiercely hot Summers while still having gardening fun.

As a reminder, Our last Monthly Community Seed Swap of the Spring 2019 season happens this Saturday, May 18, 2019, from 8:30-10:30 am. This is a free event – more details on the swap right here.

See you soon!

Marissa

Best Pro Tips for a Bountiful Harvest

Best Pro Tips for a Bountiful Harvest
By Marissa

You dreamed. You planned.

You tilled soil. You amended.

You planted. You watered.

You Sweated.  You Fretted.

You pulled weeds…the endless weeds.

Now you wait for your plants – your babies – to grow up and ultimately tell you if you did a good job raising them (children grow up so fast, don’t they?) at harvest time.

Is there more you can do to help them produce more, and be the best plants they can be?  Of course!

Here’s just a few Pro Tips for you to make your vegetable harvests more bountiful, and beautiful.  Enjoy!

 

Pro-Tip #2 – Strategic Fertilizing Plan

About a month ago I wrote an article for you, Top 10 Fertilizing Tips, that has some good information on when to give your plants a good boost of nutrients.  During the time when plants are turning flowers into fruits, they are using the most energy, and thus need more fuel to power these fruit miracles.  Fertilizer is like a vitamin drink to an athlete – giving vital nutrients that are needed to create the end product.  There are many different kinds of fertilizer out there – there’s (arguably) no wrong answer to the question of what to use, as long as you’re following the recommended application directions (or in the case of organics like compost, compost tea, and the like, applying a few times a week and watering in).

Pro-Tip #4 – No Place for Suckers

You’re probably thinking…suckers? Is she just trying to be clever or “hip”?  Well, maybe.  But suckers are extra branches off the main stem that don’t serve much of a purpose except extra photosynthesis.  You might think that more photosynthesis is good, right?

Sure, in some cases.  But when your plants reach the flowering and fruiting stage, like the plant shown to the right here, it’s got plenty of energy creation potential with the leaves that it already has.  If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to produce the flowers and fruit.

The reason these are called “suckers” is because they “suck” energy from fruit production, making the plant focus on new branches AND fruiting.  It’s too much.  You’ll get more flowers and fruit when you prune these away.

But don’t worry, the trimmings don’t have to go to waste.  You can create new plants by rooting these trimmings! You’ll get the same exact species of plant, and a second helping of tomatoes a little later on!

 

Pro-Tip #1 – Pollination

Pollination of your plants’ flowers is the key to making fruit (which contains the seeds).  We mostly rely on local insect pollinator populations to do that work for us, however, in many cases you can help too.

In squash, for example, there are clearly defined male and female flowers.  The female flowers are attached to what look like baby zucchini or whatever type you’re growing, sometimes called the “budding fruit” – it’s actually an ovum.  The male flowers look like just a regular flower on a stem, with an anther holding a lot of yellow pollen grains.  Pollination happens when pollen from the male stamen is physically taken from the male and lands on the female flower’s pistil structure. 

Since in the case of squash these flowers are in different locations, maybe even on different plants, the female is really lucky to get pollinated at all!  It’s the miracle of life, we’re all born of luck, right?

The good news is, you can help increase the odds of successful pollination!  Use a small artist paintbrush to collect some pollen from the male, then paint it on the female pistil. Voila! You’ve made a squash baby!  You can actively look for female flowers each morning and find a male flower to “rob” for the purpose of creating fruit.  

Be careful not to cross-pollinate – yellow squash and zucchini will pollinate each other’s females, and you’ll get some weird fruit – and the seeds from those are usually sterile, and/or not true to their parents.  It happens by accident sometimes and that’s ok.  Also, this pollination technique works for other plants, like cucumbers, tomatoes and more.

Pro-Tip #3 – Pick Often to Produce More

Believe it or not, some plants will produce a lot more seeds/fruit when you harvest the ones it’s already growing.  Green beans, for instance, whether the bush or the pole variety, will push out more flowers after a harvest and set more seed pods when you harvest the ones that it’s already working on.

You see, it’s all about the biological processes of survival.  If a plant “thinks” that it doesn’t have any seeds to drop and procreate itself, it will immediately put on more flowers and create more seed pods.  If you take those pods away, it will start over, and over, and over, until it’s exhausted.  This is how beans give us such bountiful harvests time and again.  Tomatoes also do this to a certain extent, as do peppers, cucumbers, and many more flowering fruit plants. Try it and keep score!

I hope you enjoyed these tips for getting more yield from the garden.  I’m sure there are many more things we could talk about, but these are the ones on my mind right now.

Do you have your own great advice for getting better yields?  Share with the community.

I look forward to hearing from you.

In the meantime – enjoy the bounty that we can grow with our own two hands and a fair amount of sweat equity.  Eat well and be well in the garden!

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.

 

Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens

Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens
By Marissa

You want to feed yourself and your family fabulous produce that you grew in your yard, and that’s awesome.  There’s nothing like that sense of accomplishment when you bring in baskets full of wonderful vegetables, or pop a beautifully sun-ripened cherry tomato in your mouth that you just picked off the plant.  When two-thirds of your dinner plate is colorful, delicious vegetables from your garden, you know you’re living a fantastic, purposeful life.

But when do you feed the plants that give you those great vegetable harvests?  Well, they will need a little something extra at several points during their growing cycle, and here are some tips for you to ensure that your plants will have everything they need to feed your family and still live happy, healthy plant lives. 

Before I dive in, there is one little thing that is important to know about fertilizer – it’s not technically “plant food” – rather it is a supplement of nutrients the plant needs to successfully create all of the nutritional molecules it needs to survive and thrive during its own photosynthesis process.  Think of fertilizer as something akin to taking Vitamins rather than eating a meal – it actually helps with knowing when it’s best to fertilize!

Here’s our top tips for fertilizing Florida Gardens – an article inspired by feedback from you, our customers!

#1 – Fertilize at Planting Time

Whether you’re planting seeds or starter plants, work organic fertilizer, nutrient-rich compost, or slow-release into the top 4-6” of soil of your planting area.  You can also drop a “3-finger pinch” into the planting hole, as long as it’s worked into the soil as well – you don’t want to burn the roots with too much nitrogen matter.  Always water fertilized areas well to activate the release of the nutrients from the dry granules. I recommend a 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose. Also, if you are planting peppers and/or tomatoes, you really should add dolomite lime to the soil you are planting those plants in, it will help you avoid blossom-end rot.

#2 – Fertilize When Seedlings Have First True Leaves

If you started with starter plants, this will not apply to you.  If you started from seeds, your sprouts will have their initial leaves – known as “seed leaves” or, scientifically, Cotelydons – that get the photosynthesis process started for the plant.  These leaves are responsible for getting the plant embryo inside the seed from the initial “rooting & shooting” stage to establishing a more complex and environmentally-engaged root system – they create the energy needed to establish the plant for better survival immediately.  

These leaves usually look a little different than the leaves at the time of fruit production later in life – so they probably won’t look like the pictures on the seed packet (and that’s ok). The leaves that form after the cotelydons are the true leaves, and true leaves will usually be higher on the stalk than the seed leaves.  

If you didn’t fertilize into the seed or seedling hole directly at the time of planting, work a small handful, or “a palm-full,” of fertilizer into the top inch of the soil around the bottom of the plant, keeping about 1” away from the stalk so that you don’t disturb the fragile newly-formed root ball too much. You could still go for the 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose (could do 10-10-10 if that’s all you have – just something balanced in all the NPK nutrients).

 

 

 

#4 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flush of Fruit – if you missed the first Flower Buds

Sometimes you look away for 5 seconds, and all of a sudden, you didn’t even see the first flowers – you now just have little fruits forming everywhere.  It’s ok – your plant is doing well with what you already fed it!  Just give it a little nudge now.  A small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil as a side dressing along each plant will work for this.

You can encourage the size of your fruits by giving them a little phosphorus and potassium (“K” in the NPK number) push when they set their first round of fruits.  Another great idea is some micronutrient boosters, such as FoxFarm’s Kelp Me Kelp You supplement – made from sustainable Kelp sources and teeming with all the right stuff for fantastic fruit.

Your Plants should be good through a harvest now.

 

#6 – Fertilize When Second Fruiting is Underway

Most plants are nearing the end of their “annual” lives by now, and the second flush of fruits can often be more productive than the first (really depending on the plant!).  It’s like they’re really hitting their groove. Biologically, the reason the plant fruits so much in the second fruiting is that it’s trying to produce viable seeds to continue the genetic line before the plant dies. 

They’re going to need some Phosphorus for heavy fruiting and Potassium for overall healthy growth and support, so a high- P and K fertilizer is good here.

 

#8 – Fertilize On A Schedule If Your Plants Have a Mixed Flowering/Fruiting Cycle

What if #5 & #6 above don’t really apply? Some plants don’t “flush” with flowers and fruits consecutively – rather, they will have flowers and fruits at the same time over the long haul.  A plant that comes to mind for me is pole beans, which function in a “the more you pick, the more I’ll produce” kind of behavior until the plant has exhausted all of its resources.  In that case, you can figure out when to fertilize based on production.

For example, when your two jalapeno pepper plants hit 30 peppers harvested and still has flowers, go ahead and fertilize and add dolomite.

After a season or two of growing and harvesting, you’ll be able to tell when your leafy kids need a boost. If you notice your pole beans start to slow down production, but you still see some flowers and the leaves look healthy, give them a good fertilizing and some compost tea and see if you can increase the bean count.  If not, well, you didn’t lose much with the experiment, and if you do get an increase, you know that your plant was just catching its breath and needed some nutrients to recover.

This is where your garden journal really comes in handy at tracking your growth and harvest cycles.

 

 

 

#10 – Be Consistent and Observant

I saved this tip for the very last because it is the thought I wanted to leave you with.  Even if consistent gardening for you is 10 minutes a day – 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening – be consistent about it.  Observe your plants’ behavior and you will learn when it needs a little push. You’ll know when it’s growing fine and doesn’t need more nutrients.  You’ll know when there’s too much fertilizer (plants look burned from too much nitrogen).  You’ll also know when your plant is eventually spent and can be pulled (and added to the compost pile if it’s not diseased) and replanted with something else.  Giving your plants building blocks so they can make the nutrients they need, when they need it, is one of the most important things we can do to help our gardens grow, thrive, and produce for us.

 

#3 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flower Buds

You’ve probably been waiting awhile for the first flowers to show up.  It’s worth the wait! Your plants are growing long root structures and creating relationships with the microbial life in the soil, growing strong stems to support the eventual fruits that are coming, and the leaves it needs to feed all those processes. It’s a complex and wonderful time for a plant.

You can use the same fertilizer as above, but I would recommend a high Phosphorus (“P” in the NPK number on the fertilizer bag).  Phosphorus concentrates on growing strong blooms and fruits, and roots too, which are needed to feed said above-ground plant features.  Encouraging flowering will give you more fruit, and fruit is why we work so hard at vegetable gardening, right? Work a small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil around each plant.

 

#5 – Fertilize After First Harvest & Second Flowering Starts

You’ve harvested your first flush of fruit, pinched back the stems that had those fruits on them, and now you’re seeing more flowers starting to bud on new stems.  Give your plants some more 3-3-3, 6-6-6, 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. It’s also a good time for some more dolomite lime in the soil for those peppers, tomatoes, and the like.  If you have it, work some veggie compost, earthworm castings, mushroom compost into the soil as well to feed the roots (a great time to weed thoroughly!!), and do a couple of waterings with compost tea.  

**Simple Compost tea recipe: spread out a cheesecloth, a little bigger than a bandana, and place a double-handful of compost in the middle of it. Tie off the cheesecloth so that it makes a pouch tied with a single top knot.  Fill a 5-gallon bucket with water (rainwater if you have it) about 2/3 full and submerge the compost-in-cheesecloth in it. Cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, agitate it whenever you’re out and about in the garden. Use the water from that bucket to give your plants a nutrition-rich drink – they will love you for it – you’ll see!  It can be used at any growth stage, but I like to do it at this point to “recharge” the plant for it’s second round of production. Throw the dirt from the cheesecloth back in your compost, or add it to your garden’s soil for an extra boost.**

At this point in the plant’s life, it’s just run a marathon for you, and you’re helping it recover so that it can start training again for a second go!  See what I mean about the “Vitamins” analogy?

 

 

#7 – Fertilize Again If Your Plants Are Game For Round 3

If it seems like your plants are game for a third round, you can continue the above fertilizing pattern for the foreseeable future.  

Sometimes Annuals and Vegetables in Florida continually produce because our weather is so mild here. They will slow down in cooler weather, usually, but if it doesn’t get really cold, something you plant in Spring may be still producing in December – so don’t be surprised!  

Actually, our Florida garden’s most fearsome enemy is the unabating heat of summer – where it’s still 90+ degrees in the middle of the night, the roots and leaves don’t get a rest.

 

 

#9 – Specialty Fertilizers and Soil Additives Can Really Help

I’m sure you’ve seen the shelves in the fertilizer section with a myriad of different things with strange names on them.  Bone meal, blood meal, hydrated lime, bloom boosters, liquid kelp, bat guano, microbial enhancers/inoculators, Superthrive, acidifiers, micronutrient boosters, and so many more.  It can be overwhelming!  That’s why it’s important to have people on your side that you can talk to, like our staff at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply.  Stop in and ask us!

There are fertilizers that are formulated specifically for different kinds of plants as well, like Citrus, Palms, Azaleas/Rhododendrons, Roses, Tomato, Lawn & Landscape, and more.  Soil additives like Soil Conditioner helps add more organic and/or moisture-holding materials into the soil you already have. Florida soil in most areas is really sandy, so adding organic material and vermiculite or perlite help hold water near your plants’ roots longer so that they can have time to absorb it before the water runs through is helpful.  

Shell’s also formulated several fertilizers specifically for Florida soils to help your gardens thrive – please ask us about them! We have Organic too!

Another product that is helpful in keeping water near plant roots is Hydretain, which is an environmentally-friendly liquid that you apply through a hose-sprayer. It works wonders in areas of lawn, garden, and landscape that seem to not retain water at all, such as slopes.  I find it also helps to extend the crop life into the blistering heat of our summer.

 

 

I really hope this article is a good foundation for establishing your fertilizing “schedule” in your garden.  Please keep in mind that every single garden, and plant in it, is different. So while these tips work generally, your plants may need more, or less, depending on their individual environments, growing cycle, weather for that year, watering habits, soil microbial health, and many more variables.  

In the future I plan to bring you articles about nutrient deficiencies, so come visit us again for some helpful articles about that and other things.

For now, though, if you have questions, concerns, or comments about my tips here or any article in my blog, just contact me – I’m easy to find.  And you can always ask our experts at the store for your garden product and problem questions – that’s what we do!

Take care, and happy gardening!

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.

 

Top 5 Spring Gardening Tips

Top 5 Spring Gardening Tips
By Marissa

Alright, you’ve got your plants and seeds, and you’re ready to get started planting your garden.  But what plants should go where?  What about soil and water and food?  Are there plants that shouldn’t be next to each other? How do I take care of it all moving forward?

Well, those are all good, and valid questions.  And the answer is almost always, “It depends.”  I know, that’s not helpful.  However, I want you to know that there are resources out there for you to help get it right.

I also want you to know to not be afraid of your garden.  Experiment.  Play.  Keep notes.  If something isn’t working, try something else.  In the garden, change is good.  The benefits of the education you’ll receive about living systems far outweigh the costs.

Gardening is an epic, life-long adventure. There will be astounding feats of greatness that you accomplish. You will also lose dear (plant) friends along the way.  One of my favorite quotes is from the late, great, J.C. Raulston who said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not really stretching yourself as a gardener.”  Want to know more about Mr. Raulston and his accomplishments? Check this out.  He was a pretty impressive guy.

#4 – Create a Care Schedule

We are all busy people.  We have places to go, things to do, and people to take care of.  It’s important to remember that gardening isn’t a “set it and forget it” hobby.  Vegetables and annual plants/flowers require consistent care and attention. 

But it doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time.  A few minutes per day, and then a block of time on your day off, will get you to harvest and/or bloom with great results. Incorporate garden time into your schedule, just like making dinner or brushing your teeth. 

10-15 minutes daily in the morning to water, pull a couple of weeds, monitor the health of your garden, harvest a few things that are ready, and look for/remove pests are all you need to do during the week.  Getting outside for a few minutes gives you fresh air, exercise, and maybe a little bit of sunshine to start your day.  A quick note in your journal on what you did or noticed will help you keep track.

If you’re REALLY busy, enlist helpers.  Teach kids to take on certain “chores” and hold them responsible.  Once your plants are established, for example, weeding is a great chore for kids. Challenge them to keep your garden weed-free for a prize at harvest time.  Teach them how to recognize when the green beans or jalapenos are ready to be picked and let them do it.  It’s really fun to see their happy faces when they eat something they had a hand in creating.  Or maybe there’s a neighbor who would love to help (and share in the harvest).

 

 

 

#2 – Plants need regular watering

It’s recommended that we humans drink at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water every day because we need water to survive. Likewise, plants need regular drinks of water too.  Water is the fluid that keeps leaves open to collect the sun’s energy, keeps nutrients available where needed, and is the substrate where all of the biochemical processes for life happen in a plant (and really, in us too).  

In places like Florida where we have high humidity, if you can water the soil without touching the leaves, your chances of harmful fungul diseases of the leaves decreases dramatically. Soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and containers that water from the bottom (like Earthboxes), are the best way to do this.

If this isn’t possible, just make sure you water in the mornings so that the sun can dry the leaves.  Dark moist environments are bad fungi’s dream environment (just think of athlete’s foot, but on your plants).

Watch for leaf wilt on hot afternoons (see picture to the right), if this happens then your morning watering is not delivering enough, you’ll need to water more.  And some plants just need more water than others, you might try supplemental watering of certain plants using bottles you stick into the soil that leak water out slowly (I’ve done that on hot patios when I didn’t have an Earthbox), there’s lots of DIY for bottle watering if you look around the ‘net for it.

#5 – Plan Your Garden, Garden Your Plan

 

We know the basics of plant life, right?  Light, Soil, Water, Food, Air, Temperature.  All of these factors play a big role in the life of your garden.  An imbalance in any of these can nip your success in the bud – pun intended.

In my two previous blogs, Tips for a Great Garden Plan Part 1 and Part 2 I discuss many of the things to think about when planning a garden.  These articles cover a lot so I won’t repeat it all here.

I do want to point out one thing, though.  After you do all of your planning, drawing, and such, follow that plan.  Unless you learn you royally screwed something up in the plan – like not having a structure for your pole beans to climb or figuring out that where you thought you had 8 hours of sun only gets 2 hours – then follow the plan.  It makes your notes through the growing season more accurate so you can take what you learn and apply it to future gardens.

 

 

#3 – Plants Need Food

Just as we need to eat, plants need to eat too.  They create energy from photosynthesis, which is the process of using the energy of light to take the carbon out of carbon dioxide to make glucose (sugar) to feed itself and release oxygen back to us (plants are why we can breathe).  Carbon is the basic building block of all life.  But plants need so much more.

To thrive, plants also need Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium – they’re called the Macronutrients (NPK).  These are the numbers you see on fertilizer bags. A high nitrogen (N) fertilizer will promote solid green growth of leaves and stems.  Phosphorous (P) takes care of flowering and root growth.  Potassium (K) also increases root growth and establishes the overall health and growth rate of the plant. Plants need other minor elements too, like Sulphur, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, and more. 

And finally, they need beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae in the soil to help them assimilate those nutrients and establish plant communities.  Fungi, for example, have a very extensive network of nutrient gathering “roots” that trade sugar that the plant makes for water and nutrients that the fungi gather.  This is known as a symbiotic relationship.

Fertilizers and soil additives are a manual way to enrich soil that is deficient in the nutrients and microbials your plant needs. They come in organic and regular varieties. This is a huge topic, so I would suggest talking to gardeners you know, researching with the UF/IFAS websites, or asking us here at the store.  That said, in general the most important times to feed your plants are 1) at the time of planting; 2) at the time of the first flowering; and 3) at the time of the first fruit setting, with small amounts through the middle of the harvest time (and in Florida often you can extend harvest time by a few weeks with continued harvesting and feeding).

#1 – Observe the Wonders of Your Garden

I can’t stress enough how many wonderful things your garden will teach you and your family over time.  You’ll learn what the plants you like to grow want, and when they want it. You’ll see little insects and figure out if they are good or bad for your garden.  You’ll taste the freshest most delicious produce you’ve ever eaten in your life.  You’ll smell flowers, freshly-worked soil, Spring rain, and the scents that certain plants have, like tomatoes, or geraniums, or rosemary.  With a journal you can look back on gardens past and remember what worked and what didn’t.

Through a garden, you will grow as a human being who shares this planet with other wonderful creatures.  Only by diving in and experiencing these true wonders of the world will you know the joys of getting your hands dirty like this.  I suggest you get started, right now.  We’re here to help – just ask us!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re enjoying these gardening thoughts.  Care to share? Send me a comment, or email me a question.

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.

 

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.

 

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