Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2
By Marissa

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

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

Starting from Seed

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

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

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

I don’t want to be “normal”

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

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

 

Starter Plants

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

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

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

How Much Should I Water?

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

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

 

Let’s Talk Soil

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Keeping a Garden Journal

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

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

 

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

Some Plants Don’t Play Well Together – Be Aware

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

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

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

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

 

Now It’s Your Turn!

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

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

Have fun! 

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

More things to Consider When Making Your Plan

  • How will you get water to your plants?  

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

It really is concentrated applied and active composting.

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

 

Planting by Groups

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

I’ll Show You Mine

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

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

My special notes say:

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

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

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

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 1

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 1
By Marissa

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

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

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

Ready?

Let’s get started!

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Until then…thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Marissa

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

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

#1: Review the current year’s Almanac

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

14 Fun DIY Garden Labels

14 Fun DIY Garden Markers
By Marissa

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

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

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

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

Garden Labels for Wine Lovers

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

Wine Bottle Garden Labels

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

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

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

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

Wine Cork Garden Labels

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

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

Clothespin Garden Markers

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

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

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

Twig Garden Labels

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

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

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

 

Paint Stick Garden Labels

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

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

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

Seed Packet Mason Jar Stakes

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

Staple your seed packet to your stake.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Using Sticks for Garden Labels

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

 

Popsicle Stick or Tongue Depressor Garden Labels

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

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

Seed Packet Stake Garden Labels

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

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

 

Spoon Garden Labels

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

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

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

  

Painted Bricks, Pots, & Rocks

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Thanks for reading, and Happy 2019!

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

 

Milk Jug and Plastic Garden Labels

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Can Lid Labels

 

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

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

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

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

2019: Resolutions For You and More

2019: Resolutions For You and More
By Marissa

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

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

But first:

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

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

Resolutions:  Why do we make them?

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

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

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

How cool is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chicken Report

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

 

Garden Guides

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

 

Free Community Seed Swaps

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

 

Shell’s Workshop Series

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

The Learning Center

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

 

 

Buy Online, Pick Up In Store

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

 

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

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.

 

Holiday Gifts for your Favorite Gardener

Holiday Gifts For Your Favorite Gardener
By Marissa

When you think of buying gifts for your children, family, and friends, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply may not be the very first store you think to look. I’d really like to change that.  Supporting local businesses is something that is very important to building a community – building community being one my primary missions for the store – because supporting local business keeps your money local, and supports local families too, like our awesome employees.

I’ll give you a quick list of items you can purchase here that any gardener would love to receive. I hope this article will give you ideas for a few things that would make great gifts this holiday season which you can pick up right here at our local family-owned store.

Holiday Gift Idea #1: Earthbox

This is my “go big” garden gift idea – an Earthbox kit.  It comes with the planter box, the sub-irrigation pieces (perforated divider, watering tube), fertilizer, plastic weed covers, wheels, and instructions. At about $45, it’s really an amazing self-contained growing system, allowing you to grow fantastic veggies with very little maintenance.  The box itself lasts for MANY years – in fact, Mr. Shell’s Earthboxes are well over 25 years old and are STILL functioning just fine – no cracks, no bleaching from the sun.

The Earthbox was invented by a man in the Tampa Bay area – Bradenton, to be exact – Mr. Whisenant.  He passed away just this past February (2018), and was the man who revolutionized container gardening with his great growing invention. We miss him and his knowledge. But he lives on every season we plant our Earthboxes.  We have a class on how to plant them coming up in the Spring – stay tuned for that, and make sure your favorite gardener is aware of it so they can sign up!

Holiday Gift Idea #2: Garden Tools

Did you get a peek in your favorite gardener’s shed and find that some of their tools are so rusted you’re afraid they’re about to fall apart?  Did the wooden handle on their favorite hoe have a crack down the center and is being held together with duct tape? Did a neighbor borrow their hand trowel and they never got it back?

You can be the hero of Christmas by getting them a brand new hoe, rake, shovel, trowel, watering can, Wondergrip gloves, or any of the other tools we carry in the store.

Good tools make the labor of growing a garden just a little bit easier, and they’ll be thinking of you, and thanking you, the next time it’s time to do some garden chores.

Holiday Gift Idea #3: Seeds

I don’t know about you, but I could spend hours in the seed section of our store dreaming of what I want to plant the very next chance I get.  Since here in Florida you could really start seeds in a protected area (in trays) in late January, giving Seeds for Christmas for Spring Planting really isn’t a bad idea! You could get a little basket and make a cute little seed display in it with a bow, or use the packets as stocking stuffers.

We have Ferry Morse and Livingston Organic seeds, as well as a great company out of New Mexico called Sandia Seeds.  Sandia has a lot of different kinds of seeds, but their speciality is peppers – from the very hottest to the mildest sweet pepper.  Did you know that New Mexico has a University that specializes in Hot Peppers? The famous Hatch pepper comes from there. Finally, we have bulk seeds as well in lots of varieties of common farming crops that have a great germination rate for a fantastic price.

Holiday Gift Idea #4: FoxFarm Products

Does your favorite gardener really have an amazing talent for growing their own food, flowers, and pretty much whatever they want? Is their thumb blindingly green already? The experienced gardener is sure to appreciate a selection of FoxFarm products.  Their selection of plant foods and soils contain important microbial and minor element profiles that really help plants look stunning and promotes optimum growth and production of fruits and flowers.

FoxFarm was born from seeing a need in the garden industry for nutrient-rich additives that augment growth through interactions between good healthy soil, organic materials, and natural ways of getting the best out of your plants. There are so many soils and dry and liquid fertilizers to choose from, there is certainly something that would put a smile on your favorite gardener’s face.

Holiday Gift Idea #5: Shell’s Gift Certificates

Did you know we offer Gift Certificates? Well of course we do! If you’ve looked around, and you’re just not sure what to get as a gift, then don’t fret – we’ve got you covered!

Let them choose their own gift at our store when you give them a gift certificate to Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply! We can make it for any amount.

Also, we have more than just gardening supplies, we also have pet food & supplies, chicken & farming supplies, and the best prices and variety of wild & tame bird food & supplies in Tampa.

Our Gift Certificates make a great stocking stuffer!

I hope this quick Gift Guide helps you make some decisions about gifts for your favorite gardener.

We really appreciate your support and business over nearly six decades, and being a part of the Tampa Bay community is something we treasure.

Sincerely,

Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Grow These In Florida This Winter

Grow These In Florida This Winter

By Marissa

Some folks might be surprised to learn we can garden in the “colder” months down here in Florida.  In fact, the further South you are in our fair state, the better for your veggies and annuals (which can become “perennials” when it doesn’t freeze hard) surviving the Winter.  

It goes without saying that one of my favorite Winter garden plants is Strawberries. I’ve already written quite a bit about them, such as this article about growing Strawberries in Containers and another about the Basics of Strawberry Gardening, so I’m not including them here.  

Instead, I’d like to highlight some other plants that do well in our mild Florida Winter weather so that I can help your planning process for the coming planting season (which basically can be after your Fall garden stops producing, or in December, or both!).  These plants below love cool weather, and handle a bit of light frost with little to no issues.  Here we go!

 

Florida Winter Garden Pick #1 – Kale

A leafy green that comes in many varieties, Kale is your friend in Winter gardens.  From leaves with hues of blue-grey, to bright green, to red, purple, and almost black, and leaf forms from flat to curly, Kale is high in nutrients and also high in fiber.  It also makes everything more colorful.

Baby Kale is great in salads, and the giant leaves that often happen when you ignore them for 5 seconds (honestly, they’re so prolific) are great wilted in stir fry and soups, and also substituted for lettuce in lettuce wraps!  

Harvesting your salad from your backyard is convenient, not to mention much less expensive than driving to the market.  Plus you know what you’ve put in and on them, so you don’t have to worry about not knowing what you’re putting into your body.

In this second picture here you can see Kale performing really well in some Winter Earthbox plantings from Mr. Shell’s garden last year! We had so much kale we were giving it away to friends and neighbors. By the way, those Earthboxes are over 25 years old and still growing strong! They’re a fantastic investment.

 

Florida Winter Garden Pick #2 – Broccoli

If you’ve ever tried growing Broccoli in the Spring, you might have found that by the time it’s ready to set heads, the plant just gives up and wilts in the heat.  Planting Broccoli in the Winter is the best bet for getting full luxurious heads of Broccoli (and really any veg that has a head on it like this, e.g. cauliflower).

Broccoli is traditionally a “cool crop” in that it does best when the weather is lower than 90 degrees.  There are those that have good luck with them in the heat, but they know more magical gardening tricks than I do (one friend grows them under shade cloth – that’s brilliant!).

Broccoli is a very versatile veggie – you can eat it raw, or bake it, roast it, boil it, steam it, stir-fry it…(it’s like Shrimp in Forrest Gump).  Try it out! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Recently, cauliflower, a broccoli relative, began to show up in colors like yellow, lime green, and purple – they are all delicious!

Florida Winter Garden Pick #3 – Cabbage

OK, maybe I cheated a little on this one.  Cabbage is like Kale and Broccoli had a lovechild and made a beautiful, gloriously-round baby.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Cabbage as a contender for Winter gardening because it comes in so many varieties and colors.  From light green (almost white!), to silvery, to bright green and purple too, cabbage is a delicious addition to the dinner table. And it’s so easy to grow!

The most famous use of cabbage, arguably, is Cole Slaw. You can use any color of cabbage to make this dish, along with some carrots for color.  I’ve had grilled cabbage, boiled cabbage (corned beef and cabbage anyone?), fermented cabbage (sauerkraut is awesome!), and raw cabbage leaves used in wraps (so good).  

Cabbage has a lot of sulphur compounds in it, which makes it a bit smelly when boiled for long periods of time.  I usually do my cabbage boiling outside.

Some cabbage relatives are good to grow too, like bak (pak, bok) choi, and kohlrabi, so make sure you add some of those in.

Did you know you can also grow ornamental cabbage? It’s lovely!

 

Florida Winter Garden Pick #4 – Carrots

Do you ever have a particular plant that there seems to be some sort of cosmic force keeping you from getting to harvest?  For me, it’s carrots (and orchids…that’s a story for another day). BUT – I’ve had the most success in Winter gardening for this little underground vitamin-filled wonder root.  

Some folks don’t bother to grow carrots anyway – they’re inexpensive enough at the store that you can get by purchasing them.  But I like to grow the varieties that you can’t find in the store – the whites, yellows, purples, reds, etc.

Carrots are picky about their soil, and can overall be a pain in the patootie (in my opinion).  They need really loose loamy soil in order for the root to expand down into the soil (making lengthy carrots) and our native Florida sand isn’t naturally loose.  That doesn’t make our soil bad.

You can amend the soil with organic matter and compost to make it easier for the carrots to lengthen.  It will be worth the extra effort when you get to eat a them, in all their crazy colors!  That satisfying crunch and sweetness makes it all worthwhile for sure.

Additional thought here: When I do get to harvest carrots, I’ve not found my carrots to grow exceedingly large here in my gardens, and I’m ok with that.  When they’re small they are great for roasting, or dipping in hummus and crunching away.  Yum!

Florida Winter Garden Pick #5 – Onions

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention members of the allium family here.  Onions are extremely tolerant to hot and cold weather, and we have both here.  Every Fall we have a pre-order for Vidalia onion transplants where our customers can order sweet, delicious Vidalia onion plants to grow in their gardens.  Straight out of Georgia, these onions do really well down here, and actually our order for them just arrived at the store. We usually don’t have many extras, so if you want some, get in and see us quick!

We also have onion sets for white, yellow, and purple onions, as well as the Super-Sweet variety and Shallots too.  You can plant Onion sets pretty much anytime through the Fall, Winter, and early Spring too – check out my article on that here: “Set”ting up for Success.  Many people make several plantings over time so that they don’t have one huge harvest (it’s called Succession Planting).

Onions are an indispensable flavor in the kitchen, used in so many dishes to impart flavor, both in the greens and bulbs, that I can’t imagine a garden without them.

 

So, there’s 5 Winter Garden crops that I’d suggest you try in the garden this Winter.  We do have some starter plants for some of these available now, as well as onion sets like I mentioned above, so stop in and see what we’ve got (it changes week to week).  

If you’re looking for some more ideas on what you can do in the garden this Winter, you can check out my previous article, Top 5 Winter Gardening Ideas, which highlights some things to do that take advantage of the cooler weather while implementing in the garden.

No matter what you decide to do for your garden, we wish you every success with it.

As we approach Thanksgiving, we here at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply truly hope you have a wonderful holiday season and Winter Garden season too.  

We are truly grateful for your business and your support.  The only reason we’ve been here 57 years is because of you.

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.

 

Delish Dishes from the Backyard

Butternut Squash Soup

Delish Dishes from the Backyard
By Marissa

Your fall crops are probably well underway by now, and I wanted to talk about some delicious dishes that you can make from the things that you are growing right now. You probably can’t harvest yet, and that’s ok – this will just give you something to look forward to cooking!

One of my favorite treats is soup, especially in the fall and winter months. Simmering in the house for a few hours to combine all the flavors makes the whole house feel cozy and inviting. Smelling your delicious soup brewing all day is also sure to make you hungry! Let’s try a butternut squash soup with squash straight from your own garden – it’s a little bit of work to prep, but it’s SO worth it!

Butternut Squash Soup

This delicious creamy soup is wonderful for a lunch or dinner. Served with bread & salad you’ll have a filling meal! The main recipe is even vegetarian (I’ll put optional non-veg items in parentheses). You can use a pot on the stove or a slow cooker, whatever you prefer. Have an Instant Pot? You can use that too with some modifications. I included directions for all below so you can make this tasty soup whatever way works for you and your kitchen. A recommendation from my own kitchen: while I love my Instant Pot for lots of things, I really love the stovetop for this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups vegetable stock (or 4 cups chicken or turkey stock – you can even make this yourself!)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 uncooked 3-4 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed in about ½” – 1” cubes
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig of fresh sage
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, rubbed between your hands gently just before putting in the pot to release the oils
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, minced fine
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt, with extra for seasoning at the end
  • ¼ tsp fresh black pepper, with extra for seasoning at the end
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne, with extra for seasoning at the end
  • ⅛ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (or ½ cup Half & Half or Heavy Cream), with extra for garnish if desired
  • FOR STOVETOP ONLY: 2 tsp grapeseed or avocado oil
Uncooked, peeled and seeded butternut squash

Optional garnishes:

  • Dash of smoked paprika on top for color
  • Small pinch of Roasted Salted or Unsalted Pepitas – these are roasted pumpkin seeds that are shelled. You can also roast the seeds from the butternut squash while your soup is cooking and use them as a garnish! (recipe below)
  • Substitute milk above for sour cream for a heavier soup with that characteristic sour cream taste. Use a ¼ cup, with a dollop saved for garnish at serving time
  • (Crispy bacon, crumbled, sprinkled on top)
  • Your favorite crusty fresh-baked or toasted bread for dunking

For Slow Cooker:

Put all ingredients into the pot or slow cooker EXCEPT the milk and garnishes. Set the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. After 8 hours, remove the lid, remove the sprigs of sage and rosemary, and add milk of your choice. Use an immersion blender to blend soup smooth into a bisque, or use a blender that is vented for the heat (blending in parts, it won’t all fit at once!) and then put it all back into the cooker and stir to ensure all the chunky bits are smooth as you stir.

On the Stovetop: Place pot that will be big enough for all ingredients on the stove and place the oil in the bottom, Heat on medium-high and spread the oil around a bit. When hot and shimmering (not smoking) add onion, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the carrot, some of the butternut squash cubes and apple to the bottom of the pot, not so much that you can’t stir them around on the heat, and saute them as well for another 2 minutes – this process gives you a little more “roasted” flavor – caramelizes the natural sugars in the squash, carrots, and apples.

Add the rest of the squash, apple, all the stock, the vinegar, and top with the salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, the basil leaves, sage and rosemary sprigs, and stir gently. Bring pot to a boil with frequent stirring and then cut the heat to low.

stovetop butternut squash
Instant Pot Butternut Squash Soup

Simmer on low for at least 3 hours, lid on, until the squash is soft. Monitor your liquid level on the stovetop and add a ¼ cup of broth if it gets too thick – you don’t want it to burn. When done cooking, remove the sprigs of sage and rosemary, add the milk of your choice, and use an immersion blender to blend into a bisque, or use a regular blender to blend in parts, making sure your blender is vented for the heat. Put all blended bisque back into the pot and stir for a “lump check”, mashing any remaining lumps.

Instant Pot:

Set to saute function and allow to heat to hot. Add oil once hot. Add onion, cook for 2-3 minutes, then add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Set to manual and cook on high pressure for 14 minutes. Natural release for 15 minutes after that. Then release pressure and open the lid. Add milk of your choice and blend your soup with an immersion blender until smooth, or move soup to regular blender in parts, making sure the blender is vented for the heat, and place back in Instant Pot and stir to ensure no lumpy bits remain.

Roasting Butternut Squash seeds:

While your soup is cooking, you can take advantage of all the bits of your squash to make a tasty treat or garnish. Clean “guts” off of seeds and wash them, then pat them dry.

Coat with olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil lightly. Season lightly with salt, pepper if you like, paprika, garlic salt, or some combination of them all to your taste. Spread seasoned seeds on parchment paper-covered baking sheet and place sheet in preheated oven 275 degrees for 15 minutes or until seeds start popping. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet. Sprinkle on top of soup at serving time – if you have any left after you’ve snacked on them!

Serving:

Ladle soup into bowl. Top with drizzle of milk of your choice, or a dollop of sour cream. Sprinkle roasted seeds, pepitas, cayenne, paprika, bacon, or any of these that you like on top of your soup and serve with a crusty bread for dunking. Add a salad of greens, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers from your garden to really get a filling meal!

Enjoy!

Herbed Butter
Roasting Butternut Squash Seeds

Herbed Butter

Herbed butter is another treat that I like to make fresh from the garden. You can put it on your crusty bread for the soup, or use it as a burst of garden-fresh flavor in a number of dishes! Great on veggies like green beans that you just picked, sauteed onions and peppers, and so much more. Here’s how to do it – it’s pretty easy!

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter softened at room temperature (don’t microwave it!)
  • ¼ tsp minced garlic, or garlic greens (sprouted garlic bulb green tops) or ⅛ tsp dried garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp minced scallions, or chives, or onion greens (whichever you have)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh dill (or ½ Tbsp dried dill)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh flat-leafed parsley (or ½ Tbsp dried parsley)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Salt 1 tsp & pepper ¼ tsp (to taste)

Combine all ingredients and beat until mixed. Do not whip – the air will keep the butter from taking on all the flavor from the herbs and garlic/onions. I prefer to mix the butter by hand with a spatula but a mixer on low would do just fine too. Use immediately. To store, take wax paper or parchment paper, spoon the butter into a cylinder roll-shape, and roll it into that cylinder shape with the paper. Tape and put in fridge to harden, pull out when needed for bread, or for cooking, or basting (amazing on crab and lobster!).

Chimichurri topping

Chimichurri

I think this topping for steak is one of the most abused South American garnishes out there. It can be SO amazing…and it can quickly be ruined by doing too much to it.

I would ask that you don’t use a food processor. It might take a few more minutes, but it’s important to take the chance to connect with your food. Chop it manually so that you can add or subtract individual ingredients depending on your tastes. And taste along the way!!

Ingredients:

  • ½ Cup Olive Oil (good quality, you’ll thank yourself later)
  • 2 Tblsp Red Wine Vinegar (please don’t substitute)
  • ½ Cup Finely chopped parsley
  • 3-4 cloves finely minced garlic – like a lot of garlic? Do four!
  • 2 small red chili peppers, or 1 dried chili pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped (you can use 1-2 tsp dried chili flakes)
  • ¾ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp (level) coarse salt
  • ½ tsp pepper (or to taste)

Combine all ingredients well with a spoon, and allow to sit at least 10 minutes before using so the oil soaks in the flavors of the herbs and peppers; I prefer to leave an hour, stirring 3-4 times during that day. You can store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours! Great to baste on flank and skirt steaks, really any steak, and any other meats on the grill as well. Serve your meats with a scoop of it on top as well (or, a scoop of your herbed butter!).

I hope this gives you a few more ideas on how you can use what you grow in the kitchen, and gets you excited to take advantage of all the flavors growing in your garden right now. I love to cook and will be talking about food at least once a season – because hey, what’s the use in growing it if you don’t have any idea how to use it, right?

In the famous words (and voice) of Julia Child, “bon appetit!”

Marissa

Chimichurri on Steaks

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.  

Landscaping with Edibles – The Fall Edition

Landscaping with Edibles – The Fall Edition
By Marissa

There are so many choices when it comes to landscaping your home to add curb appeal. But have you ever considered that your landscaping could actually help feed your family, feed native wildlife, and even help alleviate certain ailments?

Most people don’t realize there are options for getting even more use out of your landscape plants besides just looking good. And when you plant Florida Native plants, you will not need to care for them as much – they grow “wild” and are accustomed to Florida climate. They support native insects, pollinators, birds, and more.

By planning your edible landscaping you can make the most of each season, so that you have something exciting (and delicious) to look forward to all year. We’re lucky to get such great and diverse growing conditions year-round and your landscape can look great while making the most of our seasons.

There are a few native plants that grow well here in Florida, that are beautiful, functional, and once established require little care in your landscape – and are the perfect fit to make the most of the fall weather. They’re the perfect fit for any home or yard.

Blueberries

There are 8 different species of native Florida blueberry bushes, but I promise that they are all delicious. Some of those work great in the landscape! They attract butterflies and pollinators when they flower, and produce beautiful delicious blueberries too. If you’re quick and pick them before the birds and rabbits get to them, you can enjoy a tasty treat, too! Southern Highbush and Scrub blueberries are two of my favorite varieties.

Blueberries really like acidic soil, a pH of only 4 – 5.5, so your soil around your blueberries will need to be amended with something acidic to help them thrive. You can do this with a soil acidifier like granulated sulphur (which you can find here at Shell’s Feed) when you’re planting, but you’ll want to make sure you keep the pH nice and low year after year. Applying pine needle mulch to the ground around the rootballs is a great easy fix – the tannic acid from the needles supplies a constant source of acidity as the needles decompose. Pine bark also works well for pH maintenance.

Several varieties of Southern Highbush will grow well here in Tampa, including Emerald and Jewel cultivars. Check out more information at the University of Florida IFAS website here.

Florida Cranberries

This very productive plant is so popular it goes by many names. You may recognize it as tea hibiscus, red or Indian sorrel, roselle, or Florida Cranberries. The leaves of this plant can be used as greens in salad, and the fruit has a tart, cranberry-like flavor which can be used in jams, jellies, and to make a “cranberry sauce”. It’s been recorded that some individual plants have created up to 16 pounds of fruit! This is a native plant with a track record of being enjoyed in food – it’s been grown and eaten in Florida since before colonization.

This plant can be grown from seeds or cuttings and take about 4 months to mature. It grows to about 5-7 feet in height making it a perfect statement piece in your landscape that also reward you with delicious treats. There is more great information about the Florida Cranberry here.

Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly has been used for centuries by Native Americans in tea, but its gorgeous leaves and berries make it a popular decoration, too. It has beautiful green foliage and the female plants produce a red berry (or you can find orange or yellow berries in some cultivars). It can be trimmed as a bush or hedge, but can also grow to 15-25 feet, and trimming off the lower branches be groomed into a small tree, making it a great customizable decorative plant, too.

One of the most interesting things about Yaupon Holly is that it is one of the only North American native plants that contains caffeine. That means you can dry the leaves and make a delicious tea right from your yard to replace the green or black tea you buy at the store while keeping that alertness pick-me-up.

One note to the wise though, many sources advise that brewing the leaves too strongly can cause a little gastric unpleasantness, so be sure of your brew time!

More information about growing Yaupon Holly can be found on the UF IFAS website here.

Scrub Mint – Calamantha spp

Another native plant in the highlands and scrub areas of Florida is the Scrub Mint, also known as False Rosemary. This lovely mint-family species boasts beautiful silver-grey leaves and white, lavender, or blue flowers.

It grows 2-3’ wide and high, so it’s a perfect pick for bed plantings. The butterflies love it, too! It’s popularity with these pretty pollinators make it a great plant to attract the right attention to your garden from other beneficial insects and humans alike. It has a similar look to rosemary but when a leaf is crushed you might be surprised by its distinctive mint aroma. It is unknown if you can make an herbal tea from this, but I’m adventurous enough to try if I can get my hands on one! I’ll let you know.

This plant is on the endangered species list, as its scrub habitats are being consumed by agriculture/pasture projects as well as residential neighborhoods. In fact, in Broward county area which was originally part of their native habitat, there is only 1% of the scrubland where this plant natively grows left. Planting in your landscape can help save these beautiful natives!

Here is some more information about this plant, which was only discovered and categorized relatively recently, here. There is not a lot of information floating around the internet about it!

Cocoplum

The Cocoplum is a South Florida native, but I have seen it growing in Tampa area, too. It has very interesting round leaves and beautiful creamy flowers. The fruits vary from white blush to pink to purple and are edible – and are perfect for jams and jellies.

One of the more interesting perks of cocoplum is that it is a plant that has a particular hurricane resistance – it seems to be very resilient and doesn’t break away in strong winds like other plants. These plants are tough and resilient, making them a good choice for hedges, as they grow anywhere from 10-30’ high and 10-20’ wide. They are hardy but they still put in the work to attract the right attention to your yard. Their dense foliage and fruits are great for birds, and the flowers attract local pollinators like bees, native wasps, and butterflies.

Here is some great information about this versatile plant from UF IFAS.

Coral Honeysuckle

This beautiful, native Florida honeysuckle has cultivars with red, scarlet, or yellow flowers and a trumpet-shaped flower. Their blooms are so notable that this flower is sometimes also called the Trumpet Honeysuckle. This great vine will quickly climb a lamp post, arbor, or cover a fence once established, and provides food for butterflies and hummingbirds, as most trumpet-shaped flowers do.

You won’t be disappointed by the MONTHS of color this vine gives you in its flowering season. It also has beautiful green foliage that gives a very complimentary backdrop to the flowers, making for an all-season performance. And the birds will love the berries it makes; between the butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbirds, you’ll have quite a show for most of the warm seasons!

This plant is used in natural medicine quite often. The leaves can be dried and smoked for asthma, or boiled for sore throats and coughs. Chewed leaves can be applied to bee stings for relief, too. You can get the nectar from the flowers as well. A few nibbles is ok, but too much of a good thing might cause some stomach upset.

More information about this beautiful plant can be found here, amongst other places.

American Beautyberry

The Beautyberry is a great plant to mix in with other plantings, as it grows well in full sun, dappled sun, and even part shade. It will stretch 5-9’ towards the light, and it flowers and fruits on new growth. The large light green leaves are spaced far apart to allow the flower groups (called clymes) to form – they are anywhere from white, to pink, to pale purple – which then make the bright purple beautyberries that are common in our area. Butterflies love the flowers when they are blooming, and their delightful colors live up to their name.

While they are edible, they don’t have any particular flavor, and a non-pleasant texture. To get the most of them though, you can make jelly out of them for their beautiful magenta color. We might not be a fan of the berries fresh, but birds and squirrels LOVE them. Deer do too. If the critters don’t eat them all first, the berries will persist on the stems after the leaves fall off as the weather gets colder, making an interesting natural garden “architectural feature” during that time.

Native Americans cultivated these plants for ceremonial purposes. They also used them as a dye, and used the leaves to make a substance that would stun fish for easy spearing. Also the twigs and bark were boiled and applied for rheumatism and for malarial fevers – usually in a sweatbath. More information can be found here.

As you can see, there are lots of different useful plants you can use in your landscape. Here at Shell’s Feed we are currently working on getting some native plants available for you to purchase. In the meantime there are local Tampa Bay nurseries that carry them! I know that Wilcox Nursery in Largo has a large selection, and they often work with the Pinellas County Extension Office in doing talks about native plants. We’re always excited to help you get started with native plants to make the most of your landscape and garden all year.

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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