2018: A Year In Review

2018: A Year In Review
By Marissa

It’s the end of the year (can you believe it?), and we’re looking back at the content we shared with you as well as some fun times we had!

We introduced several new things in the store this year, including Shell’s Workshops and the Monthly Community Seed Swap!  

Shell’s Workshops began in August of this year, and what fun we had trying different things with you.  Some were successful, some were not, and one was cancelled due to lack of participation (but that’s ok!).  I love to learn what our community of pet and gardening lovers will respond to and what is largely ignored – it helps me bring the very best programming to you!

Our most popular workshop by far was How To Plant An Earthbox, taught by the stellar Susan Roghair (pictured, to the right).  She shared all of her many tips and tricks, and her successes and failures so that attendees could go home and get started right away.  We had so much fun, we’re going to do it again this coming Spring! Several of you mentioned to me that you were sad you missed it, so stay tuned for announcements for the next one!

Other workshops we had include Plant a Succulent For a Teacher, and a Book Signing event for local author Kenny Coogan for his new book, 99 ½ Homesteading Poems, a cute and funny book about the joys and challenges of Homestead farming, complete with recipes!  You can still pick up that book here.

We will start the Shell’s Workshop series again in February 2019.

The Monthly Community Seed Swap, also begun in August of this year, has also been quite successful, allowing gardeners in the community a FREE source for new plants and seeds from other garden enthusiasts in the community.  All you have to do is bring seeds or plants to trade and you can go home with new goodies!

We will start the Seed Swaps again monthly in February 2019, and I’ll let you know when right here in the newsletter, also on our Facebook page/events calendar.  

If you haven’t Liked us on Facebook yet, please do! We promise, we like you too.

Online Shenanigans

Speaking of liking us on Facebook, since I started reaching out to you through the various online and social media outlets, our readership and our online presence has grown. It has grown faster than ever in 2018, where we’ve reached nearly 800 likes in the Facebook community and over 1,000 newsletter subscribers (if you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, there’s a spot at the top of this blog entry to do so! Get to it!). Whenever you see something you love on our feed, please share it with your friends and family – we want to expand our reach and bring you more great content and activities!

We also started a private Facebook group for the Monthly Community Seed Swap, which is just in its infancy right now.  It is a place for Swappers to go and ask other swappers about the items they picked up at the last swap, trade ideas, maybe list what they’re bringing to the next one, arranging private swaps, and otherwise networking with each other. It’s so wonderful to see people come together.

Funny Animal Pics to Share

Have you seen the Holiday Dressed-up Animals series I’ve done for you on our social media feeds this month?  How about for different holidays over the past year? For Christmas I decided that the world can’t get enough reindeer antler-wearing parakeets and elf-costumed guinea pigs, along with many others, so I posted a long series to entertain you.  Those are running through Christmas Day, so if you haven’t joined the fun, go check out our profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, and even LinkedIn. Please share them with your friends and family!

I’m having way too much fun with this. Oh wait, there’s no such thing as too much fun!

During Thanksgiving I challenged you to #21DaysOfGratitude – and for 21 Days we listed as many reasons that we are thankful for our business, our community, and for all of you, our customers.  

I challenge you now to find something you are thankful for, every day, and make an effort to let someone know that you are grateful for them. Living a life of gratitude may just be the best gift we can give to anyone, including ourselves.

I would like to know – what content and workshops would you like to see from us in 2019?  

Send me an email with your suggestions and/or questions! marissa@shellsfeed.com

Charity Work

This year, in November for Veterans Day, and over the holidays too, we chose to support Valor Service Dogs, a local Tampa charity that purchases, houses, feeds, trains, & provides Veterinary care to Golden Retrievers destined for becoming a furever Companion to a Veteran in need.  

These ability-trained and/or emotional support-trained service dogs inspire a working partnership with their Veteran, often saving the lives of those who suffer (and often suffer alone) during their recovery from the ravages of war and the traumas of their service.  It takes over $18,000 to provide a service dog to a Veteran in need, and Valor Service Dogs provides all of this this free of charge to the Veterans registered for their program.

We are taking donations through the end of December, please consider donating to this wonderful organization helping our local Veterans in the Tampa Bay area.

Learn their story (it’s inspiring!): valorservicedogs.org

We are grateful – for YOU

Thank you for another wonderful year!  As we move into what will be our 58th year in Tampa, we want you to know that we appreciate you.  Your business and support through the years is why we do what we do. If you like what we do here, and the service we provide, the best way to say a quick “thanks” to us is to tell all your friends and family, and bring them by to see us.  

Also, bring the kids! They’re the future of backyard farming and gardening, and future customers of ours! Besides, the kiddos LOVE to see the baby chickens and rabbits…and we know you love to take pictures of them playing with the animals too.

In the next newsletter we’ll look forward to 2019 and give a small preview of what’s coming for the next growing season.  See you back here in a couple of weeks!

Thank you,

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.

 

“Set”ting Up For Success: Planting Onion Sets

“Set”ting Up For Success: Planting Onion Sets By Marissa

Growing onions in Florida is actually pretty easy. You don’t even have to do much to have a successful crop! In my opinion, growing onions so far down South is all about the preparation and planting. Once that’s all done, you should be all “set!” The growing part is pretty easy. Of course, there’s a little maintenance, but it’s simple. Since onions scare away most pests, your maintenance mostly comes in the form of a little bit of weeding and fertilizing.

Let’s Get Set!

An onion used for planting is called a “set.” It looks like a tiny onion, and it may have a little sprout growing out of the top when you get it. The sprout lets me know the set is in good condition, like a little green flag. Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply carries onion sets for White, Yellow, and Purple onions, and Fall is an excellent time to get some into our gardens. Here’s a picture of Mr. Shell, owner of our store, showing off our onion set cart – with multiple onion types to choose from. You pick!

Quick Note: Which End Is Up?

This is an onion set. The sprout will come from the pointy end at the top, and the roots are at the bottom of the round bulb. You can see a touch of sprout poking out at the top and little roots that almost look like hairs already established at the bottom. They might look all dried out but they still function perfectly. The whole set is really hardy, actually. Onions are able to be stored as a dormant bulb for quite a long time, which is how onion sets survive to produce onions for the next season.

One Set, Two Results

You can grow onions for their greens, also known as onion tops or green onions, which are used in cooking and as garnish in many dishes. The greens usually have a peppery/garlicky flavor on top of the onion flavor, which makes them excellent seasoning when they’re fresh (it cuts down on the need for salt and pepper on your food – great if you have to decrease your salt intake or if pepper doesn’t agree with you, or even if you just like their taste!). You can also, of course, grow them as bulbs, to make nice round, firm, fresh, hefty onions at harvest time. There’s something so satisfying about seeing a patch of bulb onions growing in a raised bed or in a long row, they really are magnificent produce! If you’re looking to be using bulbs, you’ll want to leave the greens alone. So if you want to take advantage of the greens and bulbs, I would recommend that you plant two batches. How do you make identical sets grow into two different things, you ask? It’s all in the planting. I’ll show you how below as I go through the proper soil prep for successful sets. Just a little finesse will get you there!

Best Onion Garden Location

Onions like Full Sun. In the Fall, as the days grow shorter and the sun shifts away from being directly overhead, you’ll need a place that dodges shadows and maximizes the light during the day. Don’t forget that some of your neighboring garden plants might grow to shade your onions, so make sure when you make your garden plan that you consider the height and direction of the neighboring crops once they’re grown!

Soil Prep for Onions

To grow good onions, you’ll also need loamy, well-draining soil as well with a neutral pH and a relatively high nitrogen content. I like to grow onions in the same spot where I grew beans and peas in the Spring because beans and peas are nitrogen-fixers – they naturally add nitrogen to the soil all season, making it ready for other hungry crops. If you don’t have a garden bed that just had all the spent bean plants pulled, that’s ok. You can work in some aged manure from cows, horses, rabbits, or poultry (or compost from your compost bin… don’t let those vegetable nutrients go to waste!) into the soil to give your onions a good nutritious base to begin growing. Side note: If you aren’t currently composting your vegetable and paper waste, maybe consider using compost worms! Here’s an article about building a vermicomposting bin.

If you don’t have that, well, Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 fertilizer is absolutely amazing for planting time, as well as for growing. Mix into the soil at planting, then as the onions get established, side dress as directed. If you want a fertilizer that is a little bit stronger, Shell’s also makes a 6-6-6 that is great! Compacted soil (like sand) will yield stunted plants and you won’t get the nice bulbing effect we look for in a good onion. You will need to loosen the soil enough that the roots will be able to penetrate it, and if it is a really sandy soil, you’ll need to mix in garden soil with organic material in it (again, compost is good for this). Use a tiller, hoe or hand “claw” tool to mix in anything applied to your garden bed to ensure it’s mixed properly and fully, then rake it level.

Planting Strategies – 3 for 1

As mentioned briefly above, there’s two ways to use your onions, and there’s 3 ways to plant them. Choose what works best for your space! To get green onions from your sets – plant the set about a ½” inch in the ground, making sure the top half to two-thirds is above the dirt. Sets are pretty small, so this might be a little tricky. Plant them relatively close together to help keep them from bulbing. If you’re planting in rows, keep them 2-3” apart in the row, and the rows 10-12” apart. Side note: Green onions and scallions are slightly different. Many people call them the same thing. They are in the same family, but scallions don’t really bulb at the bottom, and are a different species. It doesn’t matter much in my opinion, they taste relatively the same!!! To get bulbing onions from your sets – to make the sets turn into bulbs, plant them about ¼” deep (really shallow!), 4” apart. Allow them a few weeks to sprout and really get settled in. You want them to take root securely before you take the next step. After they are rooted and greens are sprouting and looking healthy, which is usually 3 weeks or so, use your fingers to gently move some of the dirt away from the base of the bulb, being careful not to uproot your onion. This triggers the plant to begin building the bulb, and usually works just fine. Some of them just may never bulb, and that’s ok, just use them for chopped green onions like you would use scallions or even chives. It’s the luck of the draw, so to speak. To get a mix of green onions and bulbs from your single planting – Another tactic is to plant sets close together, which is about 2” apart. As they begin to grow and mature, harvest scallion plants for eating by pulling them strategically to give the remaining onions space to grow bulbs in a process called “thinning”. Explained another way, if you have onions in rows 2 inches apart, pull every other onion to use as a scallion, then your remaining onions will be 4” apart and have room to bulb. This will ensure that you get green onions throughout the growing cycle of the bulbing onions.

Yes, you can grow onions in containers. I really like this third planting option if you are growing in containers, on a patio or balcony. It’s the perfect way to make the most of only a little space! This harvest pictured here is white onions grown on a patio – aren’t they lovely? The mixed-use planting of putting the sets close and then strategic harvesting of green onions to give space to the bulbs allows you to maximize your space and still have fresh onion ingredients to cook with for the longest time possible. Just be careful that you don’t plant so many that you couldn’t possibly eat them all! Or, I suppose you could just become that really generous, popular neighbor or coworker who gives away lots of yummy green onions and bulb onions (not a bad thing, really). So that’s what I have for planting and growing onion sets. Later in the season we’ll talk about harvest time and what to do! Thanks for reading. Marissa
Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

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

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

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

The Solarizing Solution: 4 Steps to Freedom

The Solarizing Solution: 4 Steps to Freedom
By Marissa

Would you believe me if I told you that there is a way to kill off pesky weeds and diseases from your garden? Would you believe me if I told you that all you need to do this is some clear plastic sheeting – sealed over your garden for 6 weeks – to keep your soil weed and disease free for 3-4 months! It all sounds too good to be true, but with a bit of elbow grease, you can “Solarize” your garden. The best news is that the summertime is the BEST time to do it.

What is Solarization?

It’s been a commercial agricultural practice for years now, but Solarization is also a great alternative to chemical treatments for weeds, nematodes, and soil-borne diseases. It works well on an industrial scale, but it’s perfectly achievable for your home garden or homestead. You’ll need to invest some effort up front, but it’ll save you hours of backbreaking work in the months to come. All you need is the power of the summer sun and a few basic supplies and you can take on tricky pests that are hard to get out of the garden by other means.

Nematodes and Other Garden Pains

Many of us shudder at the mention of Nematodes! Once these critters make their way into your garden, they are terribly hard to get rid of. These unwelcome parasites burrow into the root channels of your plants. These nutrient highways from the ground to the leaves are taken over by the nematodes, who steal the nutrients for themselves. Without the sustenance they need, you’ll see wilt and decreased fruit production when your plants are affected. If you pull up your dying plant, you’ll see “root knots” in their root system, where the pests have made their home.

If they’re so hard to get rid of, what can you do to protect your garden? The summer is the ideal time to harness the power of the sun to heat up your soil to get rid of persistent pests and weeds. Our hot and intense summer sunshine is perfect to boost temperatures and keep them high, which is exactly what you need to sterilize the soil with solarization.

nematode plant damage
nematode-caused root knots, a tell-tale sign of nematodes

How to Solarize

Getting rid of nasty pests and boosting the health and yield of your garden to come sounds great. We’ve broken down how you can solarize at home this summer. This process works for any patch you want – from raised beds, to garden patches, even up to multiple rows in small farms. You won’t be able to use the land as you sterilize it, but solarizing in the summer sets you up for a great fall growing season.

What you’ll need:

  • Area(s) that you want to treat, mapped out and measured (it’s helpful to also have sq ft calculated)
  • Roll(s) of 3mil plastic, to fit the area you want to treat, plus about a foot for the edges. You can purchase this right at our store, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.
  • Several large stones to secure plastic. Plan to use them in the center and corners of your treatment area
  • Shovel
  • Hoe, twist cultivator, rotary cultivator, and/or hand tiller tool, if you have them
  • A little patience, a helper if you have one, and some sweat equity

assortment of hand-cultivators/tillers

Step 1: Pull Weeds and Cultivate Soil

Give your solarization process a head start by pulling all weeds from the area you are covering. If you have a rototiller (like in the drawing), you can use that to do the weeding and soil loosening for you. If you’re pulling weeds by hand, get as many of the roots as you can, and shake off the soil. Dispose of the weeds away from your garden beds, especially if they have already seeded. Unseeded weeds could be great compost, but seeded weeds are a better fit for a worm bin, if you have one. After pulling weeds, use a shovel, hoe, or cultivator tool to loosen the soil in the top 4-6.” It’s great exercise, but mixing up the soil is important to make sure your solarization process heats up properly.

Step 2: Rake Gently and Shape Ground for Drainage

If you want to add new dirt or compost to fill in the area, right now is the time to do it! As you rake and shape your soil, you will want to set it up for the solarization process. You’ll want to ensure that rain runs off the bed, instead of collecting in puddles. To do this, rake your bed so that it’s a little humped in the middle. Aim for a shape that is nearly flat, but with a slight curve so that gravity will feed the water down towards the edges of the garden bed. Think of it like a roadway, where there is a slight crest at the middle of the road that provides drainage into the gutters or shoulders of the road.

Do not compact the soil when you rake – in other words, don’t step on it! Stand off to the side when working. If you walk on it you’ll undo your hard work loosening the soil in Step 1.

Step 3: Water

It might seem counterintuitive, but watering is a very important step in this process. The right amount of water will boost your solarization process by conducting heat into your garden. Water will pull the heat from the surface further into the ground than dry soil. However, swampy muddy soil will not have the proper effect and may block your ability to kill certain pests and seeds in the soil. Like Goldilocks, it needs to be just right.

The morning after it rains is always a good time.If you have an irrigation system for that area, about an hour after the sprinklers run is a good time. You can hand-water as well, but we recommend a sprinkler for 20-30 minutes at least.

Step 4: Lay Plastic and Secure Properly

Now for the last and most important step: laying and securing the plastic.

Take your 3mil thickness clear plastic and measure out a piece that is about 12 inches bigger than your area (you need extra along the edges to secure the plastic). Stretch your plastic tightly over the area – this is where having a helper is especially beneficial – and place stones on the corners to hold it down. Using the shovel, bury the edges of the plastic completely underground so that wind and rain will not disturb them and pull them up. You want your patch of garden to be safe and secure under the plastic covering for the sterilization to work. Here are some example pictures:

Note: If your edges are sufficiently weighted down, you don’t need the stones in the middle.

If you get a rip or hole in the plastic, a small piece of duct tape should hold it closed enough for the solarization to be effective. However, large holes or animal digging can compromise the process, and might not kill off all the pests and weeds.

Leave the plastic for at least 6 weeks to make the solarization effective. Less time will mean less pest-killing potential. Once you remove the plastic, avoid putting new dirt into the bed, as you might be re-introducing weeds, pests, or disease into your newly-scrubbed bed.

The effects of the “cleansing” usually last up to 3-4 months, which is long enough for a Fall Garden! You can consider the solarization process to be a key prep-steps to get ready for the Florida Fall Gardening season, which is an amazing time to grow all kinds of goodies.

Note: If during your Fall Gardening after you’ve planted your plants you notice weeds popping up right near/under your plants, these are weeds that were in the soil that came from the plant grower. Because if this, I recommend growing your Fall Garden, after Solarization, from seed, just so you can thoroughly enjoy the benefits of being weed and pest free! Also, mowing/trimming can kick weed seeds into your garden beds, so just be aware that this can happen and be cautious when you are mowing and trimming to direct the grass outlet away from your garden!

Hope this was helpful, please let us know if you have any questions!

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.

 

Repelling Mosquitoes, Naturally

Repelling Mosquitoes, Naturally

By Marissa

There is a lot of information out there about repelling mosquitoes and other biting flies. Commercially, using a low concentration of DEET is the widely-accepted standard. But there are also common concerns about the dangers of this chemical and the petroleum-based delivery system often found tagging along with it.

What about some natural ways to remedy the mosquito situation? I’ve got a list right here:

Remove Standing Water

The best way to deter mosquitoes is to prevent them from living and increasing their numbers around your home! They don’t like to travel very far, so making your home less than inviting for them will keep their numbers down. Removing standing water is a great way to drastically change how many of these annoying biters you deal with this summer.

Mosquitoes are crafty creatures, and their larvae can survive in about 1 Tablespoon of water. While they need this water to be able to reproduce, they are very creative about finding spots to lay their eggs and grow. This means that you have to be consistently diligent about removing standing water from your environment.

Dishes under plants need to be cleaned out every other day. That harvest bucket you left out overnight accidentally and then it rained? Yep, empty it and put it away. Birdbath? Put a small pump to keep the water moving (birds like this too), or clean it out every other day. Old tires, old boats, junk piles…get rid of them if you can.

If you have a decorative pond, that’s cool. Try using a mosquito dunk (we have them!). Or, get some koi or goldfish, for a pretty backyard companion that loves to eat larvae. Keeping the surface of the water moving helps keep mosquitoes at bay as well, so maybe put a small floating fountain or pump in the pond, if it’s big enough.

Use Cedar Oil Spray

I can’t stress enough how well Cedar Oil works for ridding your landscape of mosquitoes. The stuff is amazing! Derived from Thuja-variety cedar trees, spray it on, allow it to dry, and enjoy a mosquito/no-see-um free yard. We sell ours in a bottle that has a hose-attachment point, making it easy to attach and spray. Reapply as needed.

Because of the concentration of the Cedar Oil (ours is 17%), do not apply it directly to the skin. It’s strong enough to irritate your skin, and we don’t want that. There’s other stuff better designed to use on your skin if you need.

Plant a Mosquito-Fighting Patio Planter

Much of our knowledge of the effects of plants on biting flies comes from traditions of herbalists and backwoods practice. It’s sadly a dying artform at this point in our history, but there is lots that we can still learn and use at home.

Many believe now that everything has to be proven by science, and being a biologist, I totally understand where they’re coming from. However, I also respect the traditions of the past and like to experiment with them until I find the ones that work for me. Different people have subtle differences in their chemical makeup, so different things work for different people (like the same perfume smells different on different people). Feel free to experiment to find something that works for you and your home that you are comfortable using and helps ensure a more comfortably mosquito-free experience for you.

To utilize some popular mosquito-repelling plants, you’ll want a good-sized (LARGE) planter for your patio to have room for a variety of pest-control plants within easy reach. Here’s a fun plant-o-gram for you:

Outer Ring:
– Light Green: Marigolds – natural source of pyrethrum, found in insecticide (when extracted and concentrated) and known to many companion planting gardeners as a natural pest deterrent.
– Pink: Floss Flower – mosquitoes don’t like the scent, but butterflies & hummingbirds do!
– Light Orange: Lemon-scented Geranium (Pelargonium crispum) – many say that lemon-scented plants deter biting flies (lemon verbena, lemon thyme also).
– Dark Purple: PennyRoyal – used historically in indoor and outdoor containers (please keep it in a container, it is INVASIVE) and flower arrangements to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay.
– Teal: Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) – put a handful of leaves into a pot and cover with water (about a cup or cup and a half), boil until leaves are dark, then allow to cool, place whole concoction into a sprayer bottle and mist yourself and clothing when needed to keep mosquitoes away.
– Blue: Catnip (Nepeta cateria) – contains nepetalactone – one study showed that catnip was effective at low concentrations at repelling mosquitoes (the study results are debated, and no further work was done on the topic). If you have a cat, you might want to swap out the catnip for something else if you don’t want your cat rummaging around in the container!

Marigolds, Floss Flower, Lemon Verbena, Catmint
Catnip, Lavandin (Lavender), Sage, Rosemary, Basil

Inner Ring:
– Purple: Lavender – Plant a Lavandin variety, which has a higher concentration of camphor (used most often by soap makers!)
– Grey: Sage – burn it to keep away pests (great for campfires or fire pits)
– Orange: Rosemary – you can also burn Rosemary to keep away pests
– Dark Green: Basil – oil is toxic to mosquitoes, it’s easy to crush a leaf and rub on exposed skin – plus inhaling the scent of basil gives you a feeling of being wide awake!

You can, of course, plant these all individually and spread them around your patio as well! They do give nice pops of color…and with the Catnip and Catmint, kitties will be grateful too!

Watch Out For Snake Oil Salesmen…

Warning, controversial content alert! Here it is: Citronella is NOT a geranium. (Whaaaaaat?)

The “citronella plant” geranium (sold in box stores) is Pelargonium citrosum. It smells a little bit like Citronella, and even has some of the same phytochemicals, but it is NOT where Citronella Oil comes from. And I see mosquitoes landing on the leaves all the time, unfazed.

Actual Citronella Oil comes from a variety of lemongrass Cymbopogon nardus (also known as nard grass or mana grass) that grows up to 6 feet tall. The oil is released when you brush up against the plant, or crush a leaf blade.

Most products that say they contain citronella do not have enough of the oil to make a difference – so honestly, don’t waste your money if you are buying them for their repelling purposes. The exception would be pure essential oil extracts of Citronella used in essential-oil based bug repellents, which I personally find quite effective.

Actual citronella is too big for a planter like this – that’s why it’s not included in the plantogram!! Plant it in the ground, or in its own large container as a statement piece. Be careful, though, the oil from crushed blades of the citronella is pretty potent and can be irritating to sensitive skin.

Avoiding the Buzzzzzzzz…

So, these are my tips for keeping mosquitoes at bay during your outside time. Keep in mind that most of the time, to get the benefits of a plant’s repelling power, you have to crush a leaf or two (or burn, in the case of sage and rosemary) so that the oils are exposed. So experiment, and see what happens, taking precautions with sensitive skin of course.

Hope it helps! Let me know your mosquito solutions in the comments or on our Facebook page!

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.

 

How Your Lawn Can Survive Florida Heat

How Your Lawn Can Survive Florida Heat
By Marissa

We are getting close to summertime here in Florida and it is HOT outside.  When you are trying to keep your lawn green, the rising temperatures can make it harder and harder to keep that lush look and feel.

We feel your pain. You and your lawn can get through the summer together! We have some good practices and products that we know can help you keep your lawn happy and vibrant during the hot days to come!
Here’s a few tips to help you along.

Tip #1: Regular Watering

Healthy plants need the right resources to grow! For your lawn, the right moisture and nutrients are essential to keep things green and growing. Your lawn will adjust to pretty much any amount of water or schedule you set for it, but the key is you have to be consistent.  Whether you’ve got an automatic system, hand water, or anything in between, consistency is more important than anything. While you’re planning to give your lawn ample moisture during the hot season, still keep in mind any local watering restrictions your area might have!

If you’re watering and you still have brown spots, sometimes the problem is that soil isn’t holding enough moisture.  We have a solution for that – it’s called Hydretain!  Available in a liquid that you apply with a sprayer (which we also have if you need one), Hydretain contains helpful, safe compounds that allow your grass and landscape retain water for longer.

All the effort to water your lawn actually gets the moisture where it needs to be.  Your grass stays green and you save water and time, too! Apply when needed, and those patches that are starting to look a little dry (despite watering regularly) will be rescued, easy peasy. Here’s a diagram of how Hydretain works.

Tip #2: Nutrition

Starving grass won’t grow.  If it has nothing to fuel it, it’ll just sit there, and eventually shrivel up, and turn brown.  It sounds bad, but for a little while after the blades turn brown, the roots are still alive. There’s still some hope for sad, brown grass, as it’s just waiting for the right time to send up new shoots. But you can avoid the brown, dead grass situation altogether by making sure that you are giving your lawn what it needs to grow! Your grass will need consistent watering, but also the nutrients to keep growing.  We have a couple favorite products that are a great solution for any lawn:

Shell’s 16-0-8* Lawn Fertilizer – The great thing here is, no phosphorus. The 16% nitrogen is 50% available now, 50% slow release, for a season-long feeding that doesn’t burn your grass.  The potassium is in an active form that is ready to be utilized, and we have also added minor elements to ensure the health and vitality of your grass by supporting all of its biochemical process.  You won’t be sorry you put this on your lawn this spring! It provides all the basics for healthy lawns. 

*For City of Tampa and Pinellas County residents, your local governments have a yearly ban on fertilizers containing Nitrogen and Phosphorus spanning June 1 – September 30.  Therefore you would need to substitute a lawn fertilizer that has a rating of 0-0-X where X is Potash/Potassium levels.  In City of Tampa, you ARE allowed to use Organic fertilizer on your lawn, such as Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 which we highly recommend.  In Pinellas County, you are not allowed to use anything with Nitrogen or Phosphorus.  If you have further questions, please contact us at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply and we’ll be happy to help you.

Milorganite – Milorganite is an organic fertilizer that is high in iron, micro- and macro-nutrients, and other organic matter. This product is actually made from microbes that have processed waste water in Milwaukee, WI. After they have done their job, they are kiln-dried and packaged into fertilizer!!  Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen is how it got its name.  Talk about Made in the USA!!  It will make grass turn very green when applied properly, and is excellent for shoring up a slightly-fading lawn during hot times.  It has to be watered in, of course. Rake it in a little bit, and if you can, try to apply it before you know it’s going to rain. A word of caution: Milorganite can have a bit of an odor. This is how Milorganite works:

We’ve heard that you can apply more than it recommends on the package, either more volume or more often.  We advise that you start slowly and observe for the results to experiment and see how your lawn responds. #ProTip: When experimenting with caring for your lawn, take pictures of the same areas of your lawn week to week and compare them.  If you’re serious about the DIY Lawn game, do your homework!

Tip #3: Adjust Your Mower Deck Height

During the hottest part of the year, (which for us is about half the year) raise your mower’s deck height to the maximum height.  Leaving your grass long will shade the roots and soil from the sun, which helps keep water from evaporating as quickly as it does when grass is short.

Leaving your cut grass on the ground (distributing out clumps, of course) is a great way to mulch your yard. It’ll give your lawn’s soil some shade while providing nutrients as the clippings decompose.  Some mowers have a feature called “mulching” that cut the grass into finer pieces specifically for this purpose.

Another #ProTip: Keep your blades sharp! This keeps your mower operating smoothly, and keeps your grass even healthier.

Having to mow your grass more often is a side-effect of a higher deck height, but this will help you avoid the grass clumps that are created when the grass gets too long. Plus, don’t we all need a regular exercise regimen and some sunshine? Of course we do.

Bonus Tip: Know Your Grass

Only you know your grass. Parts of your lawn that are on an incline may become drier than flat areas because gravity pulls the water down hill too fast for it to soak into the soil. Or maybe you have an area where water pools and your ground is too wet and your grass is overtaken by weeds that are water-friendly.  It’s good to know where your lawn pitfalls are so you can start to strategize solutions.

Feeding your lawn the right nutrients starts with knowing what it needs! We’ve suggested some great one-size-fits-all products, but you can really step up your lawn care once you know what type of grass you have. Fitting your routine to what your specific lawn needs will make it easier to have that lush, cool-under-the-foot feeling, even during hot summers.

So, watch your lawn through the seasons and see how it acts. Have you seen something unusual lately? Are there dry patches appearing? Does it have areas that are wet, slimy and smell bad? It is yellow, or spotted, or uprooted?  You might need some other kinds of intervention. Whatever you’re facing, we have a solution. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff can help. Bring us a sample, or a picture. We’re happy to take a look.

Thanks for reading!
Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

4 Steps to Eliminate Fleas For Good

4 Steps for Eliminating Fleas For Good

By Marissa

You’ve seen ads for flea products all over the place, I’m sure. Most of them are just for your pets. The most important aspect of flea control is probably keeping your fuzzy friend comfortable and healthy.

As much as I hate bearing bad news, I think it’s important that you know: it’s not just your pet that needs to keep flea-free. Flea problems can happen seemingly overnight in your home and in your yard as well. It’s enough of a problem that you need a strategy to avoid it.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! Here’s the 4 steps to eliminate fleas from your life!

Step 1: Treat Your Pet

Of course, I’m starting with the easiest step. There are many different products out there that help with fleas on your animal(s), and it’s very important that you get a product that will work well for your money.

Out of the many products out there, we find that for the sheer number of fleas that our climate can produce, you’ll need a couple of things to handle them effectively.

  • An already flea-infested animal should be flea-dipped. We recommend Adams Flea Dip for this process. It’s been around for many years, is safe for cats and dogs, has a strong but pleasant fragrance, and is effective at taking out the majority of fleas. Make sure that there are no open sores on your pet or you’ll cause unnecessary discomfort – depending on the severity you may need to see a veterinarian. We have one that comes to the store every 2 weeks (see our Event calendar on Facebook here).
  • If you see one or two fleas on your pet or noticed one jumped on you when you were getting snuggles, a topical “on-the-skin” flea medication should be very effective. These are applied behind the head and between the shoulder blades, usually monthly, and are quite reasonably priced for what they do. Many offer additional protections from ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies as well. We recommend Advantage or Advantix for over-the-counter control. Your veterinarian may have a prescription topical option for you as well.
  • Your pet doesn’t have fleas, but likes to go outside a lot, or is visiting places where other pets might have fleas. Flea prevention is the BEST way to avoid having an issue at all. You can go with the over-the-counter topicals mentioned above, OR you can get a prescription from your veterinarian for an edible flea prevention. Oral medications like Trifexis for dogs work well, and have the additional benefit of protecting your pet from heartworms. Your veterinarian can guide you further on what the best options for your pet are from a prescription standpoint.

Step 2: Treat Your Home

Making sure that your home is flea-free is also important. Fleas can hide anywhere in a house, and eggs can lay dormant for a year or more waiting for the right conditions. Treating your home includes carpet, furniture, mattresses, clothing, curtains, and more. If your pet has been infested with fleas, it’s possible that your home has them as well. Here’s how to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep fleas from taking over in your home.

  • Apply a flea dust in your carpet, furniture upholstery (not leather), mattresses, etc. We recommend Adams Carpet Dust. Following package instructions, leave the dust for a period of time and then vacuum it up. You may need to vacuum twice. Make sure you get all the cracks and crevices, especially on furniture!
  • If your home still has fleas after this, you may need to do a flea fogger. This is a chemical that permeates the air and kills pretty much all bugs in the home. You have to vacate the house for a certain amount of time, so make arrangements and take care of it. You can do it! We recommend Enforcer Flea Fogger. I highly recommend you ask an associate the best usage of this product, and follow the package instructions as well – usually you need one can per major open area of the house. I also recommend washing all dishes you use after a fogging, all bedding, and all clothing too. Better safe than sorry!
  • Remove beds/blanket/towels or other items that your pet has used for bedding while flea-infested and either wash them in hot water with Borax, or discard them outside the home in a closed trash can.
  • Pick up any clutter from your home’s soft surfaces (carpeted floors, sofas, recliners) and remove bedding. Any clothing and bedding that could have come in contact with the dog should be washed on the warmest setting possible. Use Borax as directed on the package in your laundry to help kill fleas and dislodge flea eggs. Use a high temperature drying setting as well if you can.
  • Wipe down all hard surfaces thoroughly. Include everything from counters, cabinets, tubs, showers, etc, cleaning the sponge/rag frequently in hot water with cleaning solution (please use gloves!). Wipe down walls and baseboards with a damp, hot towel, rinsing and wringing it out frequently. Scrub floors with a strong cleaning solution like bleach or Pine-Sol and rinse well, or use a steam mop to hot-clean them.

Step 3: Treat Your Yard

Your pet must have gotten fleas from somewhere. If your yard is where they spend most of their time, these hungry fleas are most likely hanging out in your yard. To keep the fleas from traveling back inside, you have to treat your yard too!

Step 4: BE CONSISTENT

This is almost more important than any other step. Because of where we live, this warm weather is an absolute paradise for fleas and other pests. They grow and thrive here, and it’s all we can do to keep them from invading where we live. Consistency means that you have to make and keep a schedule of treatment for your pet, your home, and your yard. Once you have it set, it’s not hard to add it to the chores that we all have to do.

Keeping fleas off of your pet, and out of your home and yard, means that these fleas will not be feeding on you and your loved ones! I hope this article helps you get a handle on any flea issues you might have. Of course if you have questions, stop in and ask our staff, we’re happy to help.

  • For dirt areas and landscapes, we recommend Hi-Yield’s Garden, Pet and Livestock Dust. This is an effective overall yard treatment that can be applied to control fleas, ticks, and more.
  • If you prefer a spray, we can also recommend Shell’s Natural Cedar Oil. It is all natural and made from cedar, which is well known for its bug repelling capabilities. Applying the oil to your yard also controls fleas, biting flies, and mosquitoes too! And it has a great scent too. Best of all, cedar oil is safe for pollinators when used as directed, and also safe for your pets!

Additional Information

Here’s some articles I’ve written that are available on our website about pests:
Flea Article – has more information about fleas themselves, what we sell to treat for them, and additional helpful tips on flea control in your environment!
Grasshopper treatment FAQ/Nolo Bait™– this is for a different kind of pest, large grasshoppers that eat your prized landscape and garden plants can be treated organically, safe for children, pets, and friendly pollinators 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.

 

Got Hoppers? Top 5 Most Asked Questions

Got Hoppers? Top 5 Most Asked Questions
By Marissa

Grasshoppers, AKA lubbers, are relatives of the locusts described in the biblical plague that devastated all of the farm crops. Our versions are not quite a natural disaster, but these voracious insects that arrive en masse in the Spring and can destroy whole gardens in a matter of days. Sounds scary, right?

Luckily for us, we have a great weapon to treat and prevent future invasions, aside from a good sturdy boot (although, that isn’t a bad idea either). Nolo Bait™ is an amazing tool in the fight to keep our gardens non-munched by these pests without resorting to nasty chemicals. At the first sign of grasshoppers, the proper application will save your landscape and garden. You can find it supplied on our shelves.

I sat down with Dax, our General Manager, to find out what our store’s top 5 questions about Grasshoppers and Nolo Bait™ are.  Here’s what he said:

1. Is Nolo Bait™ organic or safe for organic gardens?

Yes. It is a biological insecticide that has been approved for organic gardening and is compliant with regulations.

2. Is it harmful to my pets or wildlife?

No. The active organisms in Nolo Bait™ are host-specific to only grasshoppers and Mormon crickets. If accidentally consumed by any other animal it will simply pass through their system without any harm. It will not harm humans or beneficial insects either.

3. How do I use it? And how does it work?

The minimum coverage is 1 lb per acre. It can be broadcasted in any dry spreader or applied by hand around the perimeter of the property. We recommend only putting it out only when and where you see the lubbers. Since it is a biological insecticide with bait, we don’t advise to disperse all over the place, just in the infested areas. Setting bait in unaffected spots could accidentally lure them into unwanted areas.

We recommend to use 2.5” – 3” PVC pipe about 6 inches long for bait stations. It keeps the Nolo Bait™ out of the elements and direct sunlight which causes it to break down faster. Make sure to frequently check the bait stations to make sure there is Nolo Bait™ always available for the lubbers. The more they consume, the faster it will become effective and decrease the time it takes to kill them. Multiple bait stations can be used in one area and it can be applied as much as every 3 days or weekly, or reapplied once it becomes wet.

Nolo Bait™ is made up of Nosema locustae spores, a natural parasite to grasshoppers, and a natural wheat bran bait. The spores are sprayed on the wheat bran to inoculate the “tasty treat” that appeals to grasshoppers.  As the grasshoppers consume the wheat bran they become infected with the spores.

The younger ones will die off more quickly than the older ones. As the spores build up in the older ones they become slow, lethargic, and reduce their feeding. Infected lubbers are often cannibalized by healthy ones further spreading infection thru the population. 

Also, infected females will pass the spores thru the egg laying process helping decrease population even more making it highly effective for long-term benefits.

4. How often do you apply it?

Nolo Bait™ can be applied every few days or weekly. If it gets wet you will need to reapply as well. Once wet the bait (wheat bran) will go bad. The biological spores are still okay but the bait won’t attract pests anymore.

5. How fast will it get rid of grasshoppers?

Nolo Bait™ will not provide immediate control, like a poison or non-organic insecticide would, but it will be the most effective in the long run. The small younger lubbers will die the fastest, usually within the first 2-3 weeks of application. The larger ones take more time for the spores to build in them. As they consume the spores, they will become more lethargic, reluctant to hop, and slowly stop feeding.

Infected hoppers are often cannibalized by healthy ones which further spreads the infection. Nolo Bait™ also affects lubbers’ abilities to reproduce. Continual use each Spring season will mean fewer eggs hatching and fewer surviving.  In our experience, depending on how large the infestation is it can take 2-3 seasons to completely eliminate them. BUT (and this is huge) once they are gone, they don’t come back unless they migrate in from somewhere else.  We also strongly recommend that you talk to your neighbors about getting on board with using Nolo Bait™ if they care about protecting their landscapes and gardens.

Thanks for your time and expertise, Dax!

Right about now is the time that grasshoppers should be emerging from their eggs. If you see them, come see us, and get your Nolo Bait™ right away.

To find out more about Nolo Bait™, please see our FAQ here: https://shellsfeed.com/nolo-bait-faq/
To purchase Nolo Bait™ online for pickup in store, go here: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/pre-orders/nolo-bait-pre-order/

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.

 

Best Tomatoes To Grow In Tampa

Best Tomatoes To Grow in Tampa
By Marissa

The tomato is the quintessential home garden plant. It seems every family loves that fresh taste of a sun-ripened backyard tomato, and for good reason. They’re delicious! The process of growing your own food is exhilarating and also educational. Tomatoes are a great place to start for the beginner garden hobbyist, but can also be a wonderful challenge for an experienced gardener.

Since we are just past the last predicted frost, I thought I’d share my picks for greatest tomatoes to grow here in Tampa. Try one, or try them all!

Great Performers

Hybrid tomatoes are popular garden staples. These varieties have been selected, perfected, and designed to have all of the best qualities. Their plants produce tons of fruit, while also being fairly disease resistant and heat tolerant. “Early Girl” and “Better Boy” are two great hybrid tomatoes that work well locally.

“Early Girl” is named for their early fruiting time, in 50-62 days. This tomato plant is a relatively compact plant, and if provided continual nutrients and proper watering will continue to fruit all year. This continuous growth is called “indeterminate.” Early Girl will spread out so it needs to be reigned in somehow, either by being caged, staked, or trellised. Eliminate suckers for better, more hardy stems and fruit – this is true for all tomatoes!

“Better Boy” is a hugely-prolific tomato variety, holding the Guinness World Record for the number of fruits from a single plant. Fruiting begins around 72 days and is also an indeterminate plant that requires staking or trellising.

Planted together, you get a lot of tomatoes over a pretty short period of time. You’ll have plenty to share with friends and neighbors too.

Early Girl Tomatoes: Photo from Yutaka Seki
Brandywine Tomatoes: Photo from @Foodlander contributor Sue O’Bryan @birgerbird

Heirloom

Tomatoes are usually the first thing people think about when they think of gardening with heirlooms. Heirlooms are varieties that are over 50 years old and are not hybridized or genetically modified in any way (see my earlier article on what heirlooms are here). Compared to the varieties above, they are slow growing and don’t produce as much fruit. I can tell you though, they have so much flavor it is worth the effort to grow these beautiful tomatoes. If you want more quantities of these, plant more plants!

Varieties like “Brandywine” and “Cherokee Purple” are two of the most popular heirloom varieties. “Brandywine” is a heavy pink-fruited indeterminate tomato variety that can grow fruits up to 1.5 pounds. The plant produces relatively low numbers of fruit, but what it lacks in number it makes up for in size and flavor. Fruiting in 80-100 days, they also grow more slowly than other varieties.

“Cherokee Purple” is a black-fruited indeterminate tomato that has a beefsteak tomato shape with dark flesh with sometimes green-rimmed seeds. It maintains a red-mahogany color with green near the stem when ripe. It matures in about 80 days. It is said that these originated with the Cherokee tribes and are hundreds of years old. As with other heirloom varieties, what the plant lacks in the overall number of tomatoes produced, it makes up for with flavor.

Get Your Snack On

Grape and Cherry Tomatoes are a favorite snack to pull off of the tomato vine and eat while you’re standing in the garden. I consider them a reward for all the gardening hard work! If you can resist temptation long enough for them to reach the table, they are also great in salads or even bruschetta. These two varieties have superior heat tolerance:

“Super Sweet 100” hybrid tomatoes create wonderfully sweet grape-like clusters of 1” tomatoes that are packed with Vitamin C and flavor. They have decent disease tolerance and mature in about 65 days. They are indeterminate as well so they will continue to produce until the first frost. You won’t know what to do with all the tomatoes you get… so be prepared to eat!

“Yellow Pear” is an heirloom variety that I truly feel has the flavor of the larger yellow tomato varieties, but in a very compact package. And the fruits are adorable little pear shapes, just over an inch long. They make your salads, compotes, salsas, and other tomato toppings very colorful. The plants can go crazy (up to 12’ tall!) so be aware of that when you’re planting these near a structure or next to other plants. They are indeterminate like the others as well, so fresh yellow tomatoes are a possibility all season for your snacking pleasure.

One more thing: #ProTip Never store your tomatoes in the refrigerator. The flavor compounds begin to break down if their temperature is below 55 Fahrenheit. Store them in a cool place on the counter instead. Tell your friends!

That’s my recommendations for tomatoes to grow here in Tampa. We have all of your tomato and other garden-growing needs right here in our store. Stop in!

Happy Gardening! – 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.

 

Helping Your Garden Recover From A Freeze

Helping Your Garden Recover From A Freeze
By Marissa

Happy New Year! We are in the coldest part of our year here in Florida, with the frostiest temperatures typically spanning January and February. Sometimes it is very mild, other times, like the first week and the middle of January 2018, it gets icy here in the Tampa area. How did your garden and yard fare the frost?

We hope you took precautions, such as using N-Sulate crop cover fabric, as we suggested on our social media feed during the frost period earlier this month. Despite our best efforts though, plants can still be affected by the cold. This article should help you figure out what cold damage looks like and how to help your plants recover.

Inspection

Freeze-damaged plants usually have a distinctive look, but it can also depend on the type of plant to be able to see it. In general, any changes to a plant directly after a freeze are considered freeze damage. It can look like the leaves of the plant are wilted, yellowed, browned, or burned. Stems can be crispy and dry, or slimy and mushy with an unpleasant odor. If fruit is damaged by frost it usually looks like it has soft spots.

The spots and damage appears where the water inside the plant froze and then thawed. Water expands when it freezes. If you’ve ever overfilled a water bottle and then froze it, the bottle usually breaks! The same happens inside your plants. The expansion damages the structure of the plant or fruit in that area and it becomes damaged.

What To Do

If you think your garden has some frost damage, I recommend to observe your plants closely for changes over the next week or two after the freeze has passed. Wilted leaves and stems that don’t perk up after the first week will probably not make it. The more obvious damage is the parts completely burned by frost. You will want to remove and discard (or compost!) any of the slimy stinky kind of damage as soon as possible to encourage the recovery of the rest of the plant and keep fungus and mold at bay. The other “dry” types of damage can be left alone, as they will help protect the plant from further injury.

If the entire plant is burned down to the ground, remove all of the stem and leaves and clean up the burned debris to help prevent fungus and mold.. Many annuals will be burned completely, as they are supposed to die off when the frost comes (thus the name Annuals, as in, they have to be replaced annually).

Tropical plants are also very susceptible to freeze burn, as they are not meant to be grown in areas that get any freezing temperatures (but we do anyway, gardeners are a stubborn lot). However on tropicals, even if all the foliage is burned away, come April or May you’ll often see new shoots. Clear out the dead parts before they invite fungus or mold, but wait and see what happens before you dig up the whole root ball!

Watering

Watering the soil after the temperature has returned to above-freezing is a good idea, but only if it is not supposed to freeze again the next night. Frozen ground can steal water from plant roots, and thus from foliage.

Water from the hose will be warmer than the ground and will help give the plant a little jump start. Offer the plants 1” of water, or give containers enough to allow water to flow freely out. Afterwards water as you would normally, and keep a close eye on your plants when you do to stay on top of changes – positive or negative.

Should I fertilize?

While I would love to say “yes” to this, I would actually discourage winter fertilizing. Fertilizer causes new above-ground growth, and frost paired with new growth is usually not a good combination. New leaves and stems are much more susceptible to cold damage than established stems. Additionally, growing new shoots now would also stress the already-stressed plant when it is trying to recover from the freeze.

I wouldn’t fertilize until you are reasonably sure that you have passed the frost window for the whole season.

Check your Frost Zone Indicator to see your approximate average dates of  last frost (and please note, this is ONLY a guideline, and not meant to be foolproof!).

#ProTip: For fall/winter planting here in Florida, it is best to use a slow-release fertilizer or very nutrient-rich compost at the time of planting. Regularly fertilize or add compost up until before the first frost, stopping feeding through the frost period until the threat of freezing has passed. That way any latent nutrients in the soil during frost times will help the plant survive and recover from colder temperatures until Spring.

There’s my best advice for recovering your garden after a freeze. I hope it was helpful! 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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