Victory Gardens Keep Families Fed!

Victory Gardens Keep Families Fed! That’s something that might have been heard during the World Wars of the earlier part of the 1900s. But I’m here, bringing it back – because Victory Gardens are as relevant today as they ever were.

We are in a time of fear and uncertainty, to be sure. And the mainstream media is not helping…they’re making more money than ever preying on your fears and insecurities while raking in advertising dollars and paying out BIG bonuses to Execs…oh, wait, that soapbox is for another day. I digress.

This COVID-19 pandemic burst our “first world” security bubble and caused us all to re-evaluate what is truly necessary in our lives, and really look at what we often take for granted: the availability of food.

Thousands of pounds of squash and zucchini harvested, and then wasted. Image from Politico, click to read story

We hear in the news that farmers are dumping thousands of pounds and gallons of food in the fields because it’s going to waste from the decrease in business of restaurant purchases and more. It surprised even me to learn that dairy farmers (which my family owned a dairy, back in the day) are dumping milk by the truckload, but when I go to the store the milk shelves are empty.

It’s time to take a good look at our food distribution, and what we, as individuals, can do to make it easier for ourselves when a crisis happens. Many areas do not benefit from access to fresh fruits and vegetables at all those areas are called “food deserts” and they are a real problem in the urban areas of the US and it was happening WAY before this pandemic.

One thing I can tell you, living in a hurricane-afflicted state, is that being prepared is everything. And we CAN prepare for what amounts to an agricultural collapse – and a collapse of the food system in general – by being PROACTIVE and growing our own. Providing for our families and putting food on the table in a physical way.

Fresh veggies ready to eat. Photo by  Luana Ungaro Corujeira  on  Scopio

Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about Victory Gardens, the 2.0 version. I’m talking about fresh greens that you snip from your back yard and bring in to wash up for dinner. I’m talking about picking turnips and onions and cabbage and making soup for dinner. Fresh tomatoes, lettuce, radish, and bell peppers for a salad.

Red Beets fresh from the garden. Photo by  Linus Strandholm  on  Scopio

It’s not a fantasy. It can be yours, with a little extra and consistent effort.

You don’t even need a yard – there’s this cool thing called the EarthBOX! That’s a story for another day (or for a class! Stay tuned for that announcement soon!). I’ll show you a picture:

shells feed garden supply tampa florida earthbox garden spring 2019 gardening plan planning
Earthbox garden – so easy. Check out our store and search for Earthbox! shellsfeed.com/shop

Now, I don’t consider myself a “prepper”, like you see on these “reality TV” shows. I think I’m just pragmatic. And I remember how my Dad survived on what he grew and how he bartered fresh veggies for meat, and went fishing and sold fishing worms to feed himself.

I want to know that I can survive on what I can produce myself. And I can. Can you? If not, well, right now we’re all stuck at home with power and internet…so why not learn more about gardening? Or maybe you want to raise chickens? Learn about that! So much better than watching the news.

Photo by  Aquila Farrell  on  Scopio

At Shell’s we’ve always advocated for knowledge of how to grow food – whether it be vegetable or animal – and we’re always up for helping people learn.

  • Check out our Learning Center.
  • We have classes and events specifically for the purpose of education; check out our Calendar of Events (which will be pretty empty until this pandemic has passed! But if you’re reading this AFTER Coronavirus is “over” then you can definitely use this link).
  • We also have a private Facebook group where people can ask questions about gardening (and even the occasional chicken question!).
  • We scan the local groups answering questions and pointing out useful products that we carry – hopefully unobtrusively, and always in the name of education.

This willingness to share in the knowledge library that is contained in the minds of our senior staff is why I personally think we will be celebrating our 60th year next year. Our sense of obligation to foster a community of gardeners and urban farmers is one of our greatest strengths as an organization.

#TampaStrong

Additionally, I believe that one of Tampa’s greatest assets is that when times get rough – we pull together as a giant city-wide team and help each other. #TampaStrong.

So…have I planted the seed of curiosity for anyone considering growing your own food? Do you have questions about Victory Gardens? Contact us today – leave a comment here, or join our private Facebook Group – Shell’s Garden Community – and let’s chat.

Victory Garden propaganda poster for health and wellness during the World War Era.

I look forward to sharing knowledge…and our community of gardeners has lots to share too!

Keep growing,

Marissa

Staying Home? Simple Fun Gardening Projects To Do Now

The world is a different place today than it was about a month ago.

We are encouraged to stay home and self-isolate. Kids are not in school. Parents may not be working. Having everyone home 24/7 can be really stressful!

One way to cope is to have fun projects to do. I’ve got some good ones to share with you that are cheap, easy, and many of you already have these things on hand.

Sparkling Garden Jars

Image from the Empress of Dirt (link below). She uses lids in her version to secure these to a railing or post – in my version you don’t need the lids necessarily, as the stakes are inserted inside the jar and not secured – it allows movement and allows you to easily change your mind on arranging them.

You can add some visual interest to your garden with Sparkling Garden Jars! Many crafty people already have this stuff lying around…if not, you can easily get them at a Dollar store or craft store. (Can’t go out? Use a service like Postmates to run and get it for you, or order online and have it shipped.)

You’ll need:

  • A Glass jar, or a glass – make sure they’re not anything you mind altering permanently – I highly recommend having several glasses, jars, etc to make a display.
  • Glass floral filler stones in whatever colors you like – they have a rounded top and a flat bottom, they’re often called Glass Gems and come in LOTS of different colors.
  • Adhesive: examples: E6000, Gorilla Glue, or a Hot Glue Gun with extra strong or jeweler’s glue, or clear caulk like you would use for windows – anything that will adhere to glass and dry clear
  • Wooden stake(s), or sturdy stick(s) of different heights (suggestion)
  • OPTIONAL: Other fun see-through small items like beads that won’t melt with a hot glue gun, or shiny plastic jewels if you’re using cold glue (like the “bedazzle” jewels).
Glass gems

Instructions:

Clean your glass/jar out, and remove any oils that might be on the outside.

On a protected surface, turn your glass/jar upside down.

Plan out a pattern for your glass gems and/or other decorations on a flat surface to make it easier to transfer onto the glass/jar. You can use a soft sewing tape measure to measure the circumference and height of the glass/jar so that you know how big your design can be.

Glass Gem Pattern Example:

This is an example pattern you can adapt to your glass/jar. Of course it won’t be this big!

Prepare your chosen adhesive.

Starting at the lip of the glass (which is at the bottom right now because the glass/jar is upside down), use glue to adhere the decorations onto the glass one at a time.  ***If you want to use the lid of the jar later to mount the jar somewhere do NOT glue anything to the jar’s lid threads.*** I recommend covering the lip/bottom first and then continue up the sides, covering the bottom of the glass/jar (which is the “top” now) last.

Image from the Empress of Dirt’s project.

While that sets, you can take your stake(s) or stick(s) and find a place in the garden to insert it/them into the ground. You’ll want the top of the stick to be above the other plants you’re growing in that area so the jar will be visible.

When your glass/jar is dry, go to the garden and place it onto the stick so that the stick is inside the glass/jar.  The jars might move around, and that’s ok, they won’t fall off the stick because of their weight.

You can make multiples of these jars, with different shaped glasses/jars, different colors and patterns, and mounted at different heights, for maximum effect when they are clustered together. I find that odd numbers work best in groups like this.

When the sun hits the decorations, they will shine bright!

Another Glass Gem Pattern Example:

Example of a glass gem pattern that you can adapt to your glass/jar.

Additional idea: You can use pennies instead of glass pebbles. Shine up the pennies using either silverware polish OR use tomato paste and let the pennies soak in it for about a half hour or so. Use a toothbrush to scrub them clean and the patina color of older pennies should come right off and be shiny copper again! (acid from the tomatoes removes the patina).

Additional idea: You can use these as lights! The project from The Empress of Dirt shows you how (link at the end of this section). You’ll have to use jars with lids and get some solar tealights that fit inside the jars. Decorate as above. Then mount the lid to a fencepost or other structure you choose upside down (the screw lid threads are facing upward). Put the solar tealight onto the lid. Place the jar threads into the lid and twist to close the jar. Great for lighting pathways and fencelines!

Additional idea: Use leftover glass gems and spread them in a shallow dish, like a terra cotta plant drip catcher. Fill the dish with water so that the tops of the stones are NOT underwater. Set this dish out on a flat surface near your flowers. This allows bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to land, rest and take a drink. Make sure you clean and refill daily.

Pollinator Watering Station

Please note: This project was inspired by The Empress of Dirt, she has wonderful projects: https://empressofdirt.net/gardentreasurejars/ . I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures to show you of my version – this project was something I helped someone else do when I was much younger and they are no longer around!

Super Easy Bird Feeder

Cute photo from momendeavors.com

You’ll need:

  • Clean and empty tin can(s), label removed
  • Wood dowels or sticks, about 8-12″ long
  • Paint and brushes – acrylic is ok
  • Modge Podge Outdoor (optional)
  • Ribbon or Twine
  • Hot Glue Gun and glue.
  • Bird seed
  • Peanut butter (optional)

Make sure your tin can is clean and dry.

Using your paint and brushes, paint the outside of your tin can with whatever kind of design (or just a single color) that you want. Let it dry.

Painting your tin can.

Paint a coat of Modge Podge Outdoor over the paint, let it dry. This step is optional, it allows the paint to last longer against the elements. You can choose to not do this step, and instead, re-paint your tin cans more frequently, changing up the look for the seasons, etc. How cute would that be?

Hot glue your dowel or stick to the inside of your tin can so that the stick is adhered along the inside of the can from the bottom to the opening. This is going to be your feathered friends’ perch when the can is hanging from the ribbon/twine.

Adhering your stick to the tin can – I prefer dowels or sticks but popsicle sticks can work too if that’s what you’ve got! Just make sure that the bird has enough perch to perch on!

Next, take a 3-4 foot length of ribbon or twine and fold it at the halfway point to make the loop shown in square 1 below. Make a larkshead knot around the can using the diagram below.

Pretend that yellow ring is the whole circumference of the tin can.

I recommend a Larkshead knot for stability and easy removal.

Next, fill the can about halfway with a seed mix (or a ball of seed mixed with peanut butter if you wish).

We carry Shell’s Wild Bird Mix in a 50 lb bag for about $20. It’s a bargain and VERY high quality. We have LOTS of other bird seed too. Let us show you!

When you pick up your can by the ribbon or twine, your tin can should rest sideways and level with your stick/dowel pointing straight out at the bottom of the can, parallel with flat ground.  If the can tilts upward, rain and other things will get caught in the can and accumulate; if it tilts downward, the birds will be unsteady and the seed will fall out.

Here’s an example of a bird feeder hanging level.

If your can can’t stabilize, consider using a piece of ribbon or twine at the opening and near the base of the can tied in larkshead knots around the can to stabilize it. And of course if larkshead is not working for you, use a standard overhead knot.

Once your ribbon/twine is in the position where the can hangs level, use a little glue to hold it in place so it doesn’t shift with the wind or with bird landings/take offs.

This image is from lifelovelarson.blogspot.com

Using the two free ends of the twine or ribbon, you can tie them together with an overhead knot and then hang the can with the seeds from a tree branch, shrub, a shepherd’s hook, or a plant hook. It’s extra special if you can place it near a window where you can watch the birds find it and eat.

This example is from thehappierhomemaker.com

Another idea – you can make a feeder stack! Just hot glue the tin cans together top side to bottom side so that your sticks are at the bottom of each can when the cans are on their sides. Sweet, right?

Easy “Hydroponic” Planter

Recycling plastic bottles to grow plants? Yes please!

Do you like to recycle? How about upcycle? This project is all about it! While technically not a hydroponic setup, it is indeed a sub-irrigated system, which means it’s watered from the bottom using the wicking properties of cotton and soil.

You’ll Need:

  • Plastic 2 liter bottle with cap, label removed
  • Scissors or box cutter
  • Cotton twine that is the same length as the bottle is tall.
  • Potting Mix
  • Water
  • Starter Plants or seeds
  • Drill with small bit (about the width of your cotton twine)

First, mark the 2 liter bottle about half- way up from the bottom around the outside.  Cut around the bottle at that marking to separate the top from the bottom using the scissors or boxcutter.

Cutting your bottle in half.

Clean the bottle inside and out.

Take the cap off of the top of the bottle. Place it on a surface where drilling won’t harm anything, like a woodworking table, or clamp it in a vice. Using the drill, drill a hole in the center of the cap.

String your cotton twine through the cap. Screw the cap back onto the bottle so that part of the twine is “inside” and the other part is “outside” and set aside.

Illustration of how this project will come together. Notice the wicking string threaded through the cap and connecting the water to the soil.

Take the bottom of your 2 liter bottle and fill it with water about a quarter full. Set it on a protected surface.

Flip the top third of the two liter bottle so that the cap is facing downward and the opening upward. Place it into the bottom piece so that the string dangles in the water, and the cap is closest to the water. This makes a reservoir for planting a plant at the top of your Hydroponic setup.  Adjust your string so that the string has an inch or two touching the bottom of the water reservoir and has plenty of string still above the cap.

Next, use potting mix to fill up the portion above the cap, making sure that the string is layered in the dirt. I like to circle the string around where I’m going to plant my plant, maybe an inch or so in from the outer wall of the bottle. Push your soil down to firm it, but not too hard, just enough to make sure the dirt will wick water up from the bottom.

You can make as many of these as you need for your herb garden! No tilling needed!

Once you have your potting mix in, make room for your starter plant or seeds in the center, and plant them in the that bottle top inside the string circle you made. If you need more dirt, add it now, until the dirt level is about an inch or so from the top opening.

Add a tiny bit of water to get your starter plant or seeds started (you don’t need much!). Any amount of water needed after that will be drawn up through the cotton twine “wick” from the water reservoir.

To refill the reservoir, lift out the portion of the bottle with the soil in it, and refill the bottom reservoir. This makes it easy to clean out the water reservoir as well, as occasionally it will need it.

Just gorgeous!

This setup will maximize your room to grow herbs while making sure they get the right amount of water. You can’t over or under water…just keep the reservoir full and you’re good to go! You can make one of these for each herb you want to grow.

You can also use smaller plastic bottle to start seeds in using this same method (like the 16 ounce soda or water bottles). What a great way to recycle and reuse!!

Seed starting in a sub-irrigation system, image from IThinkWeCouldBeFriends.com

And don’t think you can’t expand to other types of plants too using soda or water bottles! Here’s some cute succulent pots (shown below) that you can make with smaller bottles – for succulents make sure you put some pebbles in the bottom and use cactus soil mix! OK, these don’t have the sub-irrigation setup, but they’re a great way to recycle plastic!

How cute are these, right? Images from onelittleproject.com

Another idea for recycling bottles – a vertical garden!

Self-contained! Just be careful that you don’t overwater – there’s no drainage here—or if it’s outside, you can put a small hole for drainage in the bottom.

Here’s another use for a plastic bottle – a hanging garden! Great for a window display, or to string together a bunch along a fenceline.

Vertical gardening with bottles.

I hope I’ve given you some fun ideas for the garden using things you probably already have lying around the house.

Stay safe, don’t panic, we’ll make it through this as a community as long as we help each other.

Keep growing,

Marissa

P.S. Do you want some more fun projects? Why not look at my article about DIY Garden Markers? Has lots of great ways to label those containers and garden beds so you know what you planted. Take a look:

Don’t Be Afraid To Fail

Today, I’m going to get real, and a little personal, with you.

Today, we’ll talk about that dark shadow that lurks just outside of our visual field. That shadow is most of humanity’s deepest, darkest fears all summed up into one word: FAILURE.

You know, gardening is a lot like life. Some things you do in the garden are great successes, others not so much. Some ideas you have you might be afraid to try, for whatever reason, and other things you find it easy to ‘give it a whirl’, so to speak. Why is that?

He failed a lot…and yet, he’s remembered for his successes.

I find that the answer is pretty simple: we’re human. Our own thoughts, fears, upbringing, learned habits, and that little voice of criticism in our heads that speaks up when we don’t want it to, actually drive our actions in life, and consequently, in the garden. We do, or don’t, do something because of some emotional and intellectual math equation we do in our heads before we take (or don’t take) action.

As one of my mentors, Darren Hardy, said in his daily success mentorship video that I watched just this morning, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, in order to reach the success you want, you need to “fail faster”. I look at it like coughing when you’re sick: just like you want to get out all that phlegm, you need to get out all that failure so that you’ve learned everything you need to know to succeed out there in the garden dirt and sunshine.

Darren Hardy, former publisher of Success Magazine where this image comes from, is just one of the many mentors I study. It helps me persevere in the face of failure.

We’re going to make it even more personal now: I’m going to confess my garden sins. Because I want you to know that even though I write blog content for a garden store, and I even teach gardening classes, I’m human. I’m not perfect. I fail often.

I think the hardest thing for me is the consistency of care that cultivating food requires. Life gets in the way, other priorities take hold of my time (for instance, content writing!), and my garden is often left to fend for itself for much longer than I’d like.

Ever walk out to find this?

Occasionally, the garden actually fails. Utter, epic failure. But much of the time, it does pretty well, I am able to get food from it, and it’s a delicious success.

You might wonder how I can neglect it and still get at least some produce that I want from it. It’s because I’ve failed miserably before, and got nothing at all from my hard work. It was painful, and disappointing, to admit defeat. I’d failed.

The AZ Plant Lady writes: Behind every green thumb is a trail of dead plants

I’ll share with you right now how I can (and how you can) build a garden that tolerates a modicum of what I like to call “benign neglect.”

Take a moment to think back to a heart-wrenching failure that you had in your gardening. Just picture it for a moment, in all its painful glory.

Failure: It Happens.

OK, ouch, that hurt. But hang on to that hurt for a second, because you don’t want history to repeat itself.

Now, I want you to keep thinking about all the stuff that happened within that failure, because trust me, it was more than one thing. If it helps you, list it out quickly on a scrap paper.

Your list might look something like this: Forgot to water, didn’t fertilize, planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b, weeds got out of control and covered everything.

Pardon my handwriting…

Next, I want you to take this list, and pick one thing that you can find a solution for quickly and easily.

In this example, I’m going to pick “forgot to water”. I can fix this easily by getting a sprinkler, hose, and a digital water timer. The timer will turn the water on to the sprinkler for a certain period of time every day or other day, and then shut it back off. There. You’ll no longer have to remember to water. As the days get really hot, you might have to adjust the timer, but that’s super easy to do.

Cross that one off the list. You failed, and you fixed it.

Sprinkler timers are easy to use and fix the “I forgot to water” problem!

Now, pick another one.

Planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b. Yep, I’ve done that one. If you wrote it like that on your list, it means that you now know better, but you wanted to tempt fate and see if you could make it work. I totally get it, I get a wild hair sometimes and want to try something that I know will probably not work out, just because. I think we humans need to feel like we can control the uncontrollable…and that fundamental need definitely comes out when we’re playing in the dirt.

But if you just wrote “planted lettuce and it died,” I want you to analyze when you planted it and how you took care of it. Something within the when and the how caused the failure. A good place to start with figuring out why something expired before you think it should have is to look at the planting charts for your agricultural hardiness zone. Also, the UF/IFAS (Extension Office) makes it pretty easy, they’ve published a garden guide online that is really useful. You can also come by the store and we can help you with our garden guides (that are based on the ag university’s chart) and knowledgeable staff.

Lettuce burned by the sun

So, all of that said, as I’ve gone back and reviewed what I did right, and more frequently, what I did wrong, applying what I have learned to hedge my bets in the garden. I’ve changed the way I prep soil. I’ve set up the watering systems to help me in case I can’t get out there. I’ve set aside time a couple times a week (OK, maybe only once a week) to pull baby weeds out of the soil so they don’t take control.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned in gardening is this: I’m comfortable with failure. As much as I love science (I have a biology degree and some medical training), I know that I cannot always beat Mother Nature.

That said, she and I enjoy an understanding. It was built on the backs of many a dead plant. The more I fail, the better my understanding, and thus the greater my successes are when they happen.

Now you know my biggest secret: I fail too. And I’m totally fine with it.

He should know….

Speaking of failure, have you ever heard of the Failure Museum? It’s in Sweden, and they highlight failures in technology over the years. I invite you to watch their video here: https://failuremuseum.com/ I think you’ll find it entertaining, with a nugget of information that you can apply to your gardening, indeed your life, right away.

I wish you the greatest successes in your Spring garden this year!

Keep Growing,

Marissa

We Bet You Didn’t Know This About Spring Gardening In Florida

Are you having a hard time figuring out how to approach Spring Gardening in our sometimes unforgiving Florida climate?

We are very fortunate to have the warmth that we do, with limited cold snaps, and usually plenty of rain.

But for people who learned to garden where there are climate-based seasons, or who have learned through resources meant for places with actual seasons, it can be so difficult to navigate when to garden in Florida.

And that’s where your local neighborhood Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply can help you.

We’ve been gardening here a long time. Our store has been serving the Tampa Bay area since 1961. Back then we were surrounded by farms growing crops and raising livestock. As those farms have been eaten up by the city, we’ve turned our focus on to growing your own backyard vegetables for your family, and to urban farming.

So, with a base guidance from the UF IFAS program, along with our personal experiences gardening in Central Florida, we’ve got a lot to offer to those who are figuring out planting seasons, like Spring, here in Florida.

Sure, we’ve got a class for that! I hope you’ll join me for that – this class is part 3 of a 4 part series that I’ve been putting together seasonally. We started in Fall 2019, then we had a Winter Class, now this is the Spring class. Of course, there will be a Summer class as well.

In the meantime, though, I’ve got a couple of tips for you right here to get started.

Forget about the First Day of Spring

If you’re waiting until the Spring Equinox to start thinking about planting because that’s what your favorite gardening magazine told you to do, I have sad news for you. In Florida you’re WAY too late for many crops.

By the time the Equinox rolls around, it’s already blistering hot outside, and our wet season will be starting soon, which means your tiny seedlings will be more susceptible to fungus, and heat withering.

In Florida, you can start planting seeds in January (or even mid/late December!) for Spring. Yes, I said December. And January.

See? Our Ag University backs me up on this!

Also, our strong and healthy Starter Plants arrive usually right around February 1st at our store – and we plan it that way for a reason. Starter Plants can go in the ground starting in February. You can also plant lots of different kinds of seeds in February.

From the UF IFAS

Is there risk of frost this early in the year? Sure. Some years we get a late nip in the air. But there’s ways to make sure that your seedlings survive, and we can tell you all about how to make sure you’re protected. All you have to do is ask.

Container Plantings are a sensible option for Florida Spring Gardening

We’re here to support you in however you want to grow your veggies, or flowers, or trees, or whatever you’ve got going on. Many people choose to plant in the ground, and that’s totally great!

Citrus is making a comeback!

If you’re planting native plants, you really don’t have to do anything to the soil, they’ll be just fine with what you’ve got.

Ground plantings, like raised beds, or mounds, for things that are not native to Florida take some extra special care in the form of soil amendments and fertilizers. This is because we’re trying to force plants that aren’t used to our sandy soil to grow where they don’t really belong. So, we have to amend the soil and add the nutrients that our soil is missing for them to flourish. With a little prep ahead of time. this is definitely do-able.

BUT…you can better control your plantings using containers. You can mix your own soil, add your own nutrients, protect your plants from soil-borne illnesses, and control their sun, water, and climate, when they are in a container.

As far as containers go, you probably know that we’re Tampa’s Earthbox Authority, and we’re HUGE fans of what the Earthbox can do for the things you want to grow, like vegetables and flowers.

shells feed garden supply tampa florida earthbox garden spring 2019 gardening plan planning
An Earthbox garden – look at all those healthy, weed-free plants!

Earthbox makes it SO EASY to grow your own. In fact, we want you to experience the joys of Earthbox so much that we have a class for that!

Our most popular class, Susan does a great job showing folks the Earthbox ropes! Also someone from the class will WIN the demo box we plant in the class together!

There are also all manner of sizes of black plastic reusable nursery tubs, galvanized and rubber stock tanks, and all kinds of container planting options available at our store too.

We can show you what you need for all these, and you’ll have great results.

Your Spring Options Are Nearly Limitless Here

Spring Gardening in Florida, starting in January, really allows you nearly limitless possibilities on what you can grow. You can still plant cold-weather crops – it’s still cool enough for lettuces and collards and kale, for example, and you can plant warm weather crops like peppers, tomatoes, okra, and beans too.

Yes, we can grow roses here too!

Spring planting time is when you can plant and enjoy the most diverse gardens here. So, take advantage of our good fortune. Try some new veggies and flowers. Get creative with containers and raised beds.

We’re here to help you. We can answer questions and give you advice if you run into a problem. That’s what we’re here for.

Until next time, Tampa – Keep Growing!

~Marissa

Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery, Part 2: More Soil Amendments Explained

In Part 1 of the Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery series, we talked about some soil amendments and what they do. This article is a continuation of that, adding a few more to the list. As in the Part 1, I’ll be going in alphabetical order here, just to keep it organized.

The Garden Aisle of Mystery – Soil Amendments!

Fish Emulsion 5-1-1

As you might imagine, Fish Emulsion 5-1-1 is exactly what it says it is. It is a combination of leftover fish from the commercial fishing industry. It’s a fantastic natural source of nitrogen right away for plants needing a bit of a boost.

One caution with Fish Emulsions – they get a little stinky for a little while. I suggest using it during your neighbor’s working hours while they’re away from the house…unless you hate your neighbors, then Saturday morning is definitely the best time. Ha! 😉

16 oz: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/fertilome-fish-emulsion-5-1-1-fertilizer-16-oz-jug/

1 gallon: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/fertilome-fish-emulsion-1-gallon-jug/

Gypsum

This soil amendment is not found often available, as most of us don’t need it. It’s only used for soils where there is a LOT of thick clay (not usually Central Florida) or where soil is very salinated and salt needs to be removed from it (now that’s very possible here).

Gypsum can be harmful to other types of soil, such as sandy soil, as outlined in this very helpful article that summarizes the use of Gypsum (which is actually just calcium sulfate). I advise use with extreme caution. Have your soil tested first to make sure you actually need it!

6 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/espoma-gypsum-6-lb-bag/

50 lb bag of pelletized Gypsum: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/gypsum-micro-pellet-50-lb-bag/

Iron

Sources of Iron are important for any green plant. It is a necessary element to make Chlorophyll which is how plants manufacture their food (via photosynthesis).

One of the most common sources of Iron is a fertilizer called Milorganite, which is pelletized deceased poop-eating bacteria from water treatment facilities at Jones Island (Milwaukee, WI). It is organic and does not cause issues with nitrogen runoff. The history of Milorganite is pretty interesting, you should read more about it.

We also have a liquid Chelated Iron and a Pelletized Iron as well. Most people apply it to their lawns as a “quick green up” during the year when grass and landscapes can suffer in the Florida heat.

1 pint Chelated Liquid Iron: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-liquid-iron-1-pint-container/

Granulated Iron 5 lbs: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-iron-granules-5-lb-bag/

Granulated Iron 25 lbs: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-iron-granules-25-lb-bag/

Milorganite (the Lawn Pro edition): https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/milorganite-pro-6-4-0-fertilizer-50-lb-bag/

Kelp

Kelp has many nutrients that land-plants need, and it can be sustainably harvested too.

Kelp Green is a wonderful ocean-based seaweed extract and fish emulsion that really offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to use kelp in your garden without harvesting it from the beach yourself. It’s a masterful way to get a large assortment of micronutrients to your plants that is not found in other types of chemical pelletized fertilizers. These micronutrients include antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, hormones, and minerals too.

Kelp Green 1 Qt: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-kelp-green-concentrate-1-qt-bottle/

Fox Farm has an awesome Kelp product for your plants too. This company is really dedicated to sustainable practices, and their products are top notch!

Fox Farm’s Kelp Me Kelp You: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/foxfarm-bushdoctor-kelp-me-kelp-you-plant-food-16oz/

Minor Elements

One of my favorite things to do on fertilizer bags is to look for the minor elements they contain – also called the “micronutrients” in some cases (but micronutrients are not just the minor elements…skip that last part there if it confused you!). You can buy a fertilizer that is just a bunch of the minor elements thrown together too which can be applied to everything without worrying that it will harm anything. All plants need these minor elements.

You see, the macronutrients, also called “Major Elements”, are the N-P-K numbers you see on the fertilizer bags. But depending on what you’re targeting, other minerals/elements might be added to help that specific kind of plant. And it’s fascinating to see what certain plants need to thrive.

The Minor Elements include: Boron (B), Chlorine (CI), Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), and Zinc (Zn)

1 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-essential-minor-elements-1-lb-bag/

5 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-essential-minor-elements-5-lb-bag/

25 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/southern-ag-essential-minor-elements-25-lb-bag/

Muriate of Potash

Potash is another word for Potassium, in garden-speak. The N-P-K on fertilizer bags is sometimes called “Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potash” even though “K” is the Periodic Table letter for Potassium.

Why the name Potash? Actually, I didn’t know, so I looked it up. The word Potash comes from the method that Potassium was originally isolated from wood ash. The ash was placed in a large iron pot with a solvent and boiled until the liquid leaching agent was dissipated. The isolation process is much different now, of course.

Muriate of Potash is 50% Potassium and 46% Chloride. Both of these elements are essential for plant health, thus if your soil is potassium deficient this is a good choice to replenish it because it is very highly absorbable.

Muriate of Potash 4 lb bag: https://shellsfeed.com/shop/lawn-garden/fertilizers-soil-amendments/hi-yield-muriate-of-potash-4-lb-bag/

That wraps up Part 2 of the Solving the Garden Aisle of Mystery series! This series will continue probably after our upcoming Spring activities and promotions.

As always, we are here to help with any questions you might have. Stop in and see our awesome staff and pick up your garden, pet, and DIY pest control supplies today!

I hope these explanations help you decipher the crazy Soil Amendments aisle! Until next time….Keep Growing!

Marissa

Health Benefits of Gardening

January is the time of Resolutions, and many of those resolutions we make each year focus on health. How about making a resolution you can stick with and enjoy for just a few minutes a day that has a ton of health benefits for you?

Does that sound too good to be true? It’s not.

There is an activity you can do just a few minutes a day and reap a BUNCH of health benefits. That activity is GARDENING!

Today I’m going to list out some of the many health benefits of gardening. To get you even more motivated – and to make sure you don’t think I’m full of compost, I’ll give you extra articles to read that corroborate what I’m telling you here – yes that’s right – SCIENCE!

Starting right here: For a HUGE comprehensive list of the health issues that Gardening can help, listed out in a peer-reviewed medical journal, check out this research article (a meta-analysis) here – it’s really exciting!!

#1: Cardiovascular Health

Regular light activity/exertion like gardening decreases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, and in a way that doesn’t feel like mindless “pointless” exercise (like a treadmill – running nowhere!). Read more about Gardening for Cardiovascular Health here.

#2 Decreasing Stress

One of the markers of Stress in our bodies is the levels of Cortisol found in our blood. A Dutch study tested people’s blood Cortisol levels just after doing a really stressful task, and again after those people spent 30 minutes gardening. Those that did the gardening had lower levels of the Cortisol stress hormone in their blood than those that didn’t garden. The article from the Journal of Health Psychology is here.

Excess Cortisol for extended periods of time – which is an epidemic in the Western World – carries a huge health risk. It causes weight gain, blood sugar imbalances, and cardiovascular issues, amongst other things. Any way that Cortisol can be decreased in our systems is better for us.

#3 Happiness Is Found In Dirt

It sounds like a silly statement, but research has found that there is a bacterium in soil and forested areas that causes an increase in serotonin – one of the “feel good” brain chemicals that is associated with feeling happy and satisfied and rewarded for doing something good.

That bacterium is called Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae) has been shown to naturally decrease anxiety and increase serotonin. We have access to this lovely little creature any time we dig our hands into healthy soil – so get dirty! It’s good for you!

Want to read more? Discover Magazine (a science publication) has an article here. Also, more information about the bacterium itself can be found here (with source articles).

#4 Better Sleep

Light activity, as well as fresh air and sunshine, has been shown to increase the ability to sleep at night. Sleep is not something to be overlooked when it comes to your health – that is the time that the body heals and repairs itself. Not getting enough sleep means that your body cannot recover from the things that happened earlier in the day.

Gardening is the perfect blend of activity, fresh air, and sunshine! Even just a few minutes a day can help. Here’s more information from the University of Pennsylvania.

#5 Stay Strong

Exercise in the garden strengthens the body, especially the hands and arms. Gardening is an activity that can and should be done throughout your lifetime to maintain mobility, dexterity, coordination and more of your hands and fingers for as long as possible.

Even as we age, it is beneficial to keep gardening, even if we have to make some adjustments for ailments like arthritis. To find out more about this, check out this article from the West Virginia University’s Center for Excellence in Disabilities article about Gardening with Arthritis.

#6 Long-term Health Benefits for Children

It’s been found that early exposure to dirt in children has been linked to many health benefits, including reducing allergies, auto-immune diseases, and overall body inflammation when they get older. Some information from WebMD on this topic can be found here.

Also, when you are gardening with your children, you have an opportunity to bond and foster life-long special relationships and create memories to share with all your loved ones.

As a side-note here: Gardening with my father when I was a child is the main reason I garden today – those memories come back to me when I’m digging in the dirt, and it’s pleasant to remember him this way now that he has passed on.

#7 Financial Health

When we worry about money, that stress dumps Cortisol into our bloodstream (see #2 above). When you grow your own vegetables and herbs, you can save a ton of money and decrease the stress of buying food – affording more healthy eating and living too.

We all know organic food is expensive – but if you can grow your own, you not only save the money at the grocery or market, you save the time it took to drive there and the money you spend on gasoline too. And things like looseleaf lettuce can be harvested over and over again – saving you even more money!

The Penny Hoarder has a great article here: How a Backyard Garden Could Save You $500 on Groceries

#8 Increased Self Esteem

This seems like a stretch – I know – but hear me out here.

Successful gardening takes work, and quite a bit of skill that you can easily learn. So, after tilling, planting, weeding, nurturing, waters, and harvesting from your plants, you might see the “blackthumb” that you used to know disappear to make way for that new “greenthumb” badge of honor that you’ve earned.

That kind of accomplishment can change how you view yourself, and sharing your knowledge as well as the bounty of beautiful things you’ve grown changes the way others see you as well. One of the things that makes us uniquely human is the desire to successfully contribute our skills for the betterment of a community of our peers. There’s a great peer-reviewed article about this here.

If you can grow a garden, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!

So, these are just a few examples of the health benefits of gardening. Are you new to gardening? Are you experienced? There’s always new things to learn and experiment with in the garden. Let’s try something new together! Come see us – it’s time to plant seeds for Spring – we’ll get you started quick!

Sincerely,

Marissa

We Are Grateful For YOU

As today is Thanksgiving, we focus on what we are grateful for.

If you were to ask me my favorite part of our business, without hesitation I would say it’s getting to interact with our local community in a real grass-roots kind of way.

Today’s blog happens to fall on Thanksgiving – and so I wanted to take the opportunity to express the gratitude of Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply on behalf of our staff family (because really, we are a family too).

Being Grateful is Uplifting

I hope you’ve seen our #21DaysOfGratitude Challenge that we’ve been doing since November 8 – 21 days to get into the habit of being grateful for what we have. It’s something I started last year, and wanted to continue. I never want to forget to take a moment to be appreciative, and that’s what this article is about today – We at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply are grateful for YOU, our customers.

We are a local family-owned business that has been around nearly 60 years – no small feat when you really think about it – and we attribute our success to the service we provide to our customers.

But without customers to service – we wouldn’t be here at all.

We are grateful you support local businesses

Our store in the late 60s/early 70s, approximately

So, every time you come in and purchase something at Shell’s, you are supporting a local family business, all the families of the people we employ, AND keeping your money local (like your tax dollars) so that you support your community, just by shopping with us. We think that’s important.

We also realize how important having you walk through OUR doors really is, and that is why we work so hard to make it a pleasant experience, each and every time. You chose us, and we don’t take that lightly.

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply as it stands today.

From picking up some food for your dog, taking care of a pesky pest problem, to bringing home a new flock of chickens, we’ll make sure you have everything you need to accomplish your goals. If there’s something we don’t carry, we don’t mind referring you to our neighbors for certain things, as our neighbors send us people when they don’t have something you need.

“I like all the treats by the register, Mom – so much to sniff!”

We are grateful for the opportunity to help you problem-solve

We take the time to learn about what you’re trying to do, if you’re willing to share it with us. If there’s other products that might do it better, we’ll tell you. If you’re wanting to use something that won’t do what you are wanting it to do, we’ll tell you. And if you have a handful of things you bring to the register to fix a problem and you only really need one of them, we’ll tell you.

Why do we take the time to do that? Because we’re here to help. We want you to remember us the next time you need help with something, and come back. More importantly we want you to tell all your friends and family about us so they will come see us too.

See, that’s why YOU are so important to us. We want to help you accomplish what you need to get done as simply as possible, so that you’ll tell others that you had a great experience.

We are grateful for our longevity in the community

We are so much more than a farm feed store, which was our humble beginnings nearly 60 years ago. Garden supplies are huge source of enjoyment for us, especially live plants, the Earthbox line, and growing soils like Happy Frog Potting Soil (it’s so awesome).

Earthbox Standard with staking system growing tomatoes.

Our variety of pet supplies is pretty massive, too, not just the supplies for dogs and cats but all the exotics (like chinchillas, sugar gliders), rodents (like hamsters, guinea pigs), birds (like finches, parrots), wild birds, even some fish and reptile supplies too.

And don’t forget that we have live chickens and rabbits, and stuff for farm animals. We love it when people bring their kids to see the fuzzy wiggle nosed bunnies and the fluffy little peepers.

Stop in to see our live chickens & rabbits!

We are grateful for your friendship & patronage

We appreciate it when you stop in for supplies, or just to say hello to our friendly staff. We love it when you trust us for our knowledge to help you out, and we love being able to help you out to your car with your heavy items. It’s what we do, because we are thankful that you chose us. Carrying a heavy load to your car is the least we can do.

So, while we are closed today, Thanksgiving Day, so that we can be with our families – and we hope you are with yours too – we’ll be here for you when you’re ready to come in for your next dog food order, bale of hay, some veggie plants, or that one thing you need that no one else carries.

We are grateful for your support

We are truly grateful for you. Because of you we can continue to serve this community, and Tampa Bay at large. And that’s just the way we like it.

If you’re thankful for us too, please pay us the greatest compliment by telling the people you know about us. Your referral is the best gift we can ever receive from our customers. For those of you who already do that – thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

We’ll see you soon!

Sincerely,

Marissa

Which of these Gardening Mistakes Will You Make This Winter?

If you’re reading this in Michigan, you probably think I’m nuts right now. But where I sit here in sunny Florida, last year at Christmas is was 80 degress outside. So guess what? Gardening happens in Winter here too!

That means fresh produce from the garden year round. And that’s great for people who love that fresh-from-the-backyard-harvested-5-minutes-ago taste.

But there are some mistakes you can make in the garden in Florida Winter. Let’s talk about a few so you’re prepared.

Mistake #1: There’s a surprise freeze and you don’t have anything to cover your prized petunias.

This one is pretty simple to avoid — what’s that old Boy Scout motto? Be Prepared!

For Surprise freezes, it’s important to have something on hand and ready to go. I recommend N-Sulate is an awesome product for protecting your crops from the light freezes we may get here (some years we have none, other years we have several, and everything in between).

When used as directed, it is more effective than using old towels and bedsheets, AND it is light enough that it won’t crush young or sensitive plants. So, definitely get some. We have it for you, ready and waiting for you to pick up. And we can make sure you understand how to use this product so that you have the best chances of avoiding frost damage.

N-Sulate is a great product to have around as a “just in case” measure.

N-Sulate Covering Seedlings

Mistake #2: You have no protected place to move your container plants if we do have a freeze.

Trying to move your potted palm into your living room when there’s a freeze coming could present quite a problem, and a mess, for you. But you ran out of room in the garage and don’t know what else to do.

Don’t let that be you!

It’s so important to have an area that you know you can move some of your container plants into in the event of a freeze.

Thanks to GardenLady for the pic of plants stacked in the garage during cold weather.

Whether it’s the garage, or a porch, or a greenhouse, make sure there’s a protected space you can put some pots if there’s a freeze coming.

And while you’re at it, secure some help beforehand too, maybe a neighbor where you can make a deal, “I’ll help you move yours if you help me move mine.” No sense in breaking backs, right? 

Neighbors about to team-lift a heavy potted plant.

Also, your neighbor might have extra room they’d be willing to let you borrow, you know, for a nice bottle of wine or that awesome appetizer you make with your tomatoes, basil, and some fresh mozzarella. Never be above bartering for help!

So, have a place to put your plants for a freeze. Just in case. You never know when Old Man Winter will take a swipe at us.

Mistake #3: You’ve decided to grow sun-hungry plants this Winter.

Ah, yes, this is a good one!

So, you love tomatoes. You really LOVE them. That’s great, we all need a favorite food (it’s one of mine too).

I see toasted bread and mayo to make a tomato sandwich in that tomato’s future.

But did you know that most tomatoes will only reach optimal production with 8+ hours per day of sun? With the shortened amount of daylight in the Winter, as well as the decreased angle of the sun (it’s not high overhead like it is during the summer, it’s more to the South in Winter), your sunlight prospects are usually quite limited during Winter.

Most sun-hungry plants don’t get enough sun in Winter to do much fruiting. That’s why the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Science doesn’t list them as a Winter crop, mainly (the temperature too, but lately, it’s been warm enough).

Strong tomato stalks and leaves are important for when fruiting does start.

Now, these sun-hungry WILL grow nice strong stalks and leaves, albeit more slowly, and (BONUS!) with the cooler weather there’s less pests and fungus to contend with.

Many folks have luck planting tomatoes and other plants like it such as eggplants and bell peppers in Winter and then letting them grow strong stems, then they’re ready to start fruiting as we come into Spring when others are just getting their seedlings in the ground.

Of course, you’re gambling with the possibility of a freeze…but hey…worth the risk, right? (And, see #1 and #2 above for help with that).

Tomatoes split from freezing – water expands when it’s frozen. Yay science!

Just know that those kinds of plants don’t fruit as well this time of year.

There’s the top 3 mistakes we at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply see Florida Gardeners make in the Winter growing season.

Do you want to know more about what you SHOULD plant this Winter in Florida?

Come take my What To Plant In Your Florida Garden, the Winter Edition, on Saturday, November 16, at 11 am.

My in-store flyer for this class – taught by yours truly! Come play with me!

This “What to Plant in Your Florida Garden” series is a quarterly class I do seasonally to help people who want to garden in Florida but haven’t quite gotten the hang of what to plant when, and it’s our #1 asked question at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply by our customers. It’s a fun class!

If you moved to Florida but had a great garden up North, this is the class for you. If you’re a Floridian but you were taught to garden by a Northerner, this is also a great class for you.

I hope to see you there!

Until then…keep growing!

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. You can always get great gardening tips in my blog, or also from the UF IFAS web resource. Here’s a couple of links for you:

EDIS Gardening Guide: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021

Florida Gardening Calendar: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/florida-gardening-calendar/

P.P.S. Other articles in my blog are here, please check it out!

Gardening – it’s a Family Affair; A Tribute to Mark Govan

Our world was rocked this week by some very tragic news. One of our local gardening legends, Mark Govan, has passed away. In the wake of this terrible loss, and in his honor, I am going to depart from my usual article format to bring you something a little more personal and heartfelt.

A Tribute to Mark Govan

Mark Govan and Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply have a long history. He’s been promoting us for many years, we’ve been paying advertisers on his radio show for a long time, and we have referred people to back to him for years. You could say we are “superfans” of Mark’s.

Our store had just resumed advertising on the Florida Gardening Radio show in the last few months. We wanted to support Mark somehow after the media conglomerate cancelled his show right near the 25 year mark, but we weren’t sure how to do it. After David Graham of Graham Capital Advisors purchased the show (thank you David! Mark was SO thrilled!), we knew we could be on the air with Mark again. We were so excited, and to celebrate I made a whole new ad campaign around it (see image below).

Part of our awesome ad campaign for our support of Mark’s 25-years-and-running show, Florida Gardening Radio.

In fact, Mark and I had just corresponded last week about upcoming shows, and now he’s just…gone. Just like that.

This sad turn of events has made me pause from many of my normal marketing duties for Shell’s Feed. Mr. Shell and I are both pretty shaken up, and honestly, it has made us both realize that sometimes the stuff we get all uptight about around the store doesn’t actually matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

Further, Mark’s passing has made me think: “If I were to be gone tomorrow, what would I want my legacy to be?” I’m not sure if most people even think about that. Maybe you do. If you have thoughts about your legacy, or what you feel Mark’s legacy is to all of us, I’d love to hear it, please feel free to leave a comment on this article.

You see, we here at Shell’s are a family business, just like Mark’s business at ABC Pest Control and BuyPlumerias.com. Just this Spring I purchased two beautiful plumerias from Mark at the USF Spring Plant Sale at the Botanical Gardens. And just a couple weeks ago, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Mark’s daughter as she was having fun being the in-studio guest on his show. It was great listening to their relationship play out on the air.

Families Find Strength in Each Other

So, now I am thinking about how a family finds the strength to carry on when the Patriarch (or when a Matriarch) has moved into the next phase of existence. How does a family keep going after losing someone so dear, who is missed so much?

I’m sure it’s different for everyone. But for me, it’s the memories.

Mark will continue to be present in every life that he touched through his companies, and through his 25 years giving great garden advice and providing great educational content on the radio. Many people have ‘garden hacks’ they learned from Mark. Many more have learned to troubleshoot their garden issues from his advice. He lives on through these lessons, and the knowledge he freely and happily shared with others.

Mark Govan at the helm during his 25-year run as host of the Florida Gardening Show.

I had a Gardening Dad, Too

This sad event also makes me think of my biggest influence in gardening, my Dad, who passed away when I was a teenager. If you’ve heard me speak, or even read some of my early blog entries, I talk about my Dad being a ‘subsistence farmer’. He didn’t think of it that way, he called it survival. He grew food to eat, because food is expensive.

My Daddy, before he went to Vietnam.

I still do some things today the way Dad did them back then…it’s been nearly 3 decades since he was around to share his knowledge. I still have his books on gardening. I still have all the memories of digging in the dirt, of eating tomatoes before they made it into the house, with the raised eyebrow of my Mema when she would catch me. In my mind’s eye I can still see the way the garden was set up, and the layout of his whole homestead property.

So, I carry on what I learned from my Dad just by continuing to garden. It’s how I remember him. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me.

I don’t have very many pictures of my Dad, but when I was a kid this was often how we spent our time, nestled in a recliner with our Dachsund keeping us warm. I still remember it.

Looking to the Future

I know that ABC Pest Control is going strong, and they will continue helping people in his tradition, because I know that is what Mark would have wanted. And I know that Mark’s family will continue helping people and providing great service just like Mark did all those years. It’s all in the family, this practice of helping people.

I would imagine Mark would have wanted for us to remember him by making our little corners of the world more beautiful through gardening.

So, Mark, this is our fond farewell. Sunday mornings won’t ever be the same without you.

Thank you for all you did for the gardening community here in Tampa Bay, and in Florida. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

We’re all still learning from you. May it always be so.

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. This Saturday’s Monthly Community Seed Swap is 9am-10:30am and if anyone would like to come and talk about Mark and share advice he’s given you over the years through his show I’m happy to do so.

Be Confident in Your Fertilizer Choices Today

In honor of the City of Tampa fertilizer ban ending this week, I thought it might be fun to answer one of our most asked questions:

“What fertilizers am I supposed use in my garden, and how do I know which ones are needed for each plant?”

Gosh, this is a fun one – and we get asked questions similar to this all the time. So, I’m ready to dive in to decoding fertilizers today.

The first thing I think you need to know about fertilizers is what the 3 numbers on the front of the container mean. These numbers indicate the amounts of the Macronutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in the formula.

Here is an example of a fertilizer for a new lawn with N-P-K of 18-24-12.

Often called the “N-P-K”, which stands for “Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium,” this fertilizer indicator shows you two things: 1) The ratios of nutrients relative to each other; and 2) How many pounds of this product you would need to add 1 pound of that nutrient to the soil.

N-P-K Indicates Relative Ratios

The N-P-K numbers give you what is called “guaranteed analysis” that shows the amounts of the macro nutrients in each bag. It sets the standard for the contents of each bag.

For the ratios, a 10-10-10, or 3-3-3, will have the same exact amounts of all 3 nutrients throughout the entire bag. A 12-6-8, or 6-4-6, will have different amounts of nutrients throughout the entire bag. Higher numbers mean more of that nutrient was added to that formulation, in relation to the relative amounts of the other nutrients.

Since all these different formulations exist, it stands to reason that different ratios of nutrients are good for different plants. In fact, specialty ratios have been developed for certain types of plants. This is why you see specialty fertilizers such as Rose, Azalea, Palm, Citrus, Strawberry, Blueberry, and more.

Here’s a specialty fertilizer for Palms, Ixoras, and other plants/trees with similar needs.

These special formulations have been shown to increase the growth and production of these specific plants because of the ratios of the three main nutrients. It is based on how those plants assimilate nutrients, how they use them, and observational studies of which nutrients give the maximum amount of the desired result. Yep. it’s science.

Often, these specialty fertilizers will also have additional ingredients too, like micronutrients, humates, mycorrhyzae, etc – check out the back of the bag to see what goodies are in there for those special types of plants.

Alright, up next, it’s time for some math. Ugh, adulting is hard.

As soon as I’m done writing this blog, I mean…

N-P-K Indicates Relative Weight

Now, speaking about the second characteristic of the N-P-K rating, the amount to apply to reach 1 pound of that nutrient in the soil, we need to do a little math.

Here’s a simple example: Shell’s 10-10-10 N-P-K fertilizer indicates that you will need 10 pounds of the fertilizer to add 1 pound of each of the nutrients into the soil. You do this math by taking 100 (indicating 100%) and dividing it by 10.

100 / 10 = 10 lbs of fertilizer is needed to yield 1 pound of nutrient applied to soil.

If the N-P-K numbers are all different, like our Shell’s 4-6-8 Citrus Fertilizer, then you’d take each of those numbers and divide them into 100. Your answers will tell you how many pounds of that fertilizer you’d need to put 1 pound of that nutrient into the soil, like this:

100 / 4 = 25 lbs; 100 / 6 = 16.7 lbs; 100 / 8 = 12.5 lbs

So basically the N-P-K numbers are “weights” in a ratio format. Basically the higher the number, the LESS fertilizer you need to achieve the same result.

I know, it’s a little confusing sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with the N-P-K’s with different values for each nutrient.

What Nitrogen Does for Plants

The Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen is essential for healthy plant growth. It is an essential component in the process of photosynthesis, and as such it is needed to grow leaves and the stems to support them.

Plants with not enough nitrogen will show yellowing leaves that fall off easily. Plants with too much nitrogen will have leaves that yellow then brown and become “crispy” as the whole plant shrivels and dies (nitrogen burn). So nitrogen has to be in the right balance to help plants.

Too much Nitrogen (bottom leaf)

What Phosphorus Does for Plants

Phosphate is a naturally occurring source of the Phosphorus found in fertilizers.

Phosphorus helps plants convert nutrients taken in by the roots and converting them into building block for the plants in their growth process – for example, making proteins that keep stems strong. Phosphorus is essential for root development.

Plants with not enough Phosphorus will have a classic “failure to thrive” identity – they will be small, and will have difficulty flowering or fruiting. Their root systems will be under-developed. They may have either a very bright green or a purple hue to them – these are both signs of Phosphorus deficiency.

Phosphorus deficiency – notice the purple edges?

What Potassium Does for Plants

Even in modern science today, the specific interactions of Potassium with plants remains a mystery. That said, we know what happens with plants when they don’t have enough, so we can extrapolate from that.

Potassium increases the rate of growth of the whole plant. It makes them use water more efficiently and makes them more drought resistant. With the correct amount of potassium plants are able to fight off disease and pests. They also produce more flowers, and fruits.

Potassium deficiency is hard to spot, but sometimes in the older leaves there will be brown spots, yellow edges of the leaves, yellow or brown veins. Overall the plant will not perform well.

Notice the yellowing and browned edges of this leaf – this is Potassium deficiency.

How Do I Know If My Soil Has What My Plants Need?

Well, that’s pretty simple, really. Soil can be tested!

There are soil test kits – we carry them. There is also your local UF Extension office – they can test your soil for you, and if you need further testing, they have resources where you can have a more full analysis of your soil done for you.

Here’s the soil test kit we carry – it’s very useful!

If you’re serious about finding out a full analysis of your soil with a full report of what you can do to make it ideal, there are private and/or commercial facilities that will take your soil and test it with full reports.

I found a small list of providers at Fine Gardening’s website, edited to remove links that no longer work.

Midwest Laboratories
13611 B Street, Omaha, NE
68144; 402-334-7770 www.midwestlabs.com

Woods End Research Laboratory
PO Box 297, Mt. Vernon, ME
04352; 207-293-2457 www.woodsend.com

I definitely suggest starting with the local Extension service. They’re there to help!

Diagram of Plants and How Macronutrients Help Them

Side by Side Comparison of Nutrient Deficiencies

See? Plants CAN talk back!

What Do I Use For My Vegetable Garden?

Now that you know all of this great information, the choice should be easy.

A well balanced fertilizer is great for your vegetables and herbs to help promote growth of the whole plant. Formulas like Shell’s 6-6-6, 8-8-8, and 10-10-10 are great for gardens. If you love the idea of organic food growing, Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Garden Mix Fertilizer is AMAZING for gardens, lawns, landscapes, ornamentals…really anything you want to grow.

For your trees, ornamentals and specialty plants, there are a wide variety of specialty fertilizers available for them. Ask us when you get to the store and we’ll point you in the right direction.

This aisle can be overwhelming…so let us help!

I will say that it is very beneficial to have your soil tested for the Macronutrients. Your soil may not need fertilizer, and adding more would contribute to leaching of these nutrients in the the ground water and our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. When we add too much nitrogen, our porous soil allows the nitrogen to leach out, adding lots of nitrogen to our water table and our ocean. Then algae get a growth boost, and we have what’s called “red tide.”

“It’s like the old adage – too much of a good thing can be bad.”

The fertilizer ban legislation happened because of humans using too much chemical fertilizer in the environment and not planting plants that are native to Florida which tolerate the “challenging” soil we have here. Our soil is just fine for Florida native and naturalized plants – we only find it challenging because we try to grow things that normally wouldn’t grow here, and chemically force them to survive.

Make your own organic material by composting!

Compost, clean dry leaf litter, pine bark or needles, straw/hay, old mulch, and wood chips are all great organic matter to add to your soil. As it decomposes over time, all of the NPK nutrients in that plant matter is eaten by the critters and microbes in the soil. The Nitrogens, Phosphorus, and Potassium in those materials are thus made available to the plants that are growing now.

Want to learn how to turn your kitchen and plant waste into food for your soil? Come to our Composting 101 class on 11/2/2019 at 10 am with Amanda Streets from the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance! You’ll learn everything you need to know to get started!

It takes time, but amending with organic material is the best long term way to ensure that your soil has plenty of N-P-K and other nutrients for your plants. And…organic materials can be collected from your yard either for free, or it’s kitchen scraps and other waste that would have gone to the landfill…which you can collect and compost yourself.

I hope this fertilizer tutorial was helpful to you! Let me know if you have any questions.

Keep growing!

Marissa

P.S. Want to know more about WHEN to use fertilizer? Check out this article I wrote previously:

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