If this Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted one thing for me, it is how dependent our society has become on the grocery store food and supply distribution system, and how that system is not built with sustainability in mind. Seeing the empty shelves and the panic (accompanied by much bad behavior, I must say!), it made me think for a moment, “What if I could get the majority of my food from my yard?”
It’s not a new thought for me. As you may know from other of my writings or a class I’ve taught, my Dad was a subsistence farmer. He grew what he could year round and traded for what he could get – which was pork, chicken, eggs, and manure to compost for the garden, all from his neighbor. He also fished and sold fishing & composting worms. That is mostly how he stayed fed. He and Mema (his mom) canned veggies and made pickles for when things didn’t grow so well, or just to enjoy.
He lived in a very rural area with more land than I’ve ever owned. So, years ago I asked myself, could I grow my own food here in the city on a small plot of land? My answer was yes. While I still have a lot to learn (you never stop learning when you’re a gardener), over the years I’ve made it so that I can get a lot of nutrition out of the land I farm.
This bounty is possible, and more flavorful, when you do it yourself.
I imagine many people interested in gardening for food ask themselves that quite often, when they’re scheming and planning to make their yards into places where beautiful and edible things grow. Trust me…you can do it.
I decided to ask some local folks who REALLY know about growing your own, sustainably, just to give you some inspiration and more resources to check out.
Amongst our customers and friends of Shell’s, we have quite a few who practice sustainability and eat mostly what they grow. From massive Earthbox gardens to food forests to backyard nurseries and front yard landscapes full of edibles, aka “yardens”, there are members of our community right here in Tampa Bay who do this kind of food growing. I think this is a great opportunity to pick their brains – in the hopes that their stories will inspire others to Declare Independence from Mass Food Distribution in a time where the question of where our food comes from has a shaky and indefinite answer.
Empty Produce shelves at the grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic. Look Familiar? Photo credit: Travis Wise
I asked what it means to them and their family to know that they could sustain themselves if the food distribution system was suddenly no longer there, and what Sustainability means to them. Because the concept of sustainability is more than just growing your own food, it’s about replenishing the soil nutrients you use to grow your food and maintaining as much as possible the natural balance of the land so that you can continually grow more food and not strip the environment.
Here’s what they had to say. Also, I’ve linked you up with how to get in contact with them so that we can all expand our community, hear the voices, and see the inspiration of these local gardening/farming influencers.
Amanda Streets – Clearwater
A heavy focus on native plants for pollinators and growing your own food, Amanda helps people design their own Yardens with a focus on building healthy soil for a healthy life!
“I grew up on a working farm, so gardening and a pantry full of home-canned goodies is just the way it is. Food growing in abundance in our urban “yarden” carries on my family’s long tradition of farming, even though we don’t have fields to plow. It is important to pass these skills on to my child. Our family is busy – there’s not always time for a quick trip to the grocery store. Dashing out to the garden to harvest fruit for lunches or greens for a salad is the norm – and even better now that our child is able to take on that responsibility. Knowing where our food comes from is important. I know how it’s been grown, what has been applied, and whether it was picked ripe or green. We also know that it is there. When the store shelves were empty in March and April, that was a little scary. Whether or not there is going to be a food shortage in my lifetime, I know that I have the skills and capacity to grow a good amount of fresh, nutrient dense food for my family.” –Amanda Streets, local Clearwater “Yardener” and nurseryperson, owner of Living Roots Eco Design (https://livingrootsecodesign.com) – and the magical force behind the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance (https://PinellasCommunityCompost.com)
Kenny Gil – Tampa
A look at the first six entries on Kenny Gil’s (@lig_ynnek) Instagram feed: instagram.com/lig_ynnek
“Being able to produce as much as we can for our family on our micro-homestead means I get to connect with friends, neighbors and community members, encouraging and teaching them to break away from the mega farms that don’t have the environment, biodiversity, freshness, nutrition and flavor as top priority.” –Kenny Gil, local Tampa homesteader, growing his own massive variety of fruits and vegetables (https://www.instagram.com/lig_ynnek)
Susan Roghair – Tampa
Images from Susan’s EarthBox Garden, she created a garden from a concrete pad with EarthBox. Shows you can garden ANYWHERE.
“I love to cook! Everything I make is organic, not processed or frozen. I cook only with fresh produce and make everything completely from scratch. I’ve been a vegan for thirty years and my husband, Dan, for over fifty years! One of the things I love about having an EarthBox garden is the accessibility to fresh produce right outside my kitchen door. There is nothing more fun than harvesting a bunch of veggies and them being on the dinner table minutes later. You can’t beat that for freshness or convenience!” –Susan Roghair, local Tampa EarthBox enthusiast with (at last count) 24 Earthboxes, and our Earthbox Simple Success Secrets class instructor at Shell’s! (quote is from an article on Earthbox.com: https://blog.earthbox.com/earthbox-get-to-know-a-grower-series-4. Find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/771889789977465/)
John Steele – Tampa
Several pictures from John Steele’s Homestead – urban farming in the heart of the city. He has no website or Instagram, but if you want to talk to him, he’s at Shell’s (shellsfeed.com), so stop in and see him.
“Being able to walk through my property and harvest my own food that I have grown or raised has copious amounts of beneficial aspects to it. Some of the most predominant being: Less waste in the form of unsustainable packaging, the gratification and reward of growing, raising, and harvesting your own meals, creating a space for yourself and family to learn and grow together, independence from the grocery store and large retailers, and one of the most (if not the most) important in my family being financial ease and independence. It is hard work to run a fully functional homestead but it is well worth it. I encourage anyone and everyone to give it a shot even if only on a small scale, see what homesteading can do for you and your family.
Currently on my property we have a small flock of chicken & quail hens that are for the sole purpose of being of layers, along with a few males that play the role of broilers if ever needed. We have a 1000 gallon rainwater collection system in the works as a priority. Numerous fruits and vegetables both established and seedlings.A cleaning station for fish and wild game we catch/hunt and process ourselves, as well as a deep freezer to store it along with a generator large enough to sustain its needs for electricity throughout the hurricane season. In addition to our current resources we are adding our own shade cloth greenhouse, bee hives, and a vermiculture tower in the weeks to come.” –John Steele, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply Employee, local Tampa homesteader/urban farmer
Tanja Vidovic – Safety Harbor
Pictures from Tanja’s homestead – it’s bananas! Making soap savers out of home-grown loofahs, hubby & the kids, and bat houses mounted on the house! Find her here: www.wmnf.org/sustainableliving and https://www.facebook.com/groups/TampaGardening/
“Sustainability and the ability to grow food on my own property means the difference between food independence and dependability. I feel that if something were to happen to our food system, that me and my family would still survive. Having a food garden in my yard provides us with exercise and needed skills to live without being completely dependent on a broken system. You learn about what it takes to make a healthy soil, healthy plants, and a healthy ecosystem. I was happy to see that this past year, in Florida we approved the right to have front yard gardens. People need to be able to grow their own food, especially in food deserts were the only option may be unhealthy food. Gardening, permaculture, sustainability are all things that most schools should be teaching our younger generation.” –Tanja Vidovic, Safety Harbor homesteader and influencer, Sustainability Radio Show Host on WMNF 88.5FM, and local Environmental Activist, Also, Facebook Group “Tampa Gardening Swap” Creator with nearly 13,000 followers, and prior candidate for Safety Harbor Mayor!
Kenny Coogan – Tampa
Kenny with pumpkins from his homestead, and one of the stars of the How to Raise Chickens video series, Morticia the Transylvanian Naked Neck Chicken. The Video series is a collaboration between Kenny and Shell’s and this week our 9th episode will premiere on Saturday! Check out #TheChickenChannel. Also, click the picture above to get Kenny’s book, 99 ½ Homesteading Poems, a charming (and poetic) look at homestead life. Includes recipes!
“As a current Global Sustainability grad student at USF, I think a lot about being able to sustain myself from my land. Sustainability has three pillars: social, economic, and environmental. In 2019 I started documenting every egg, fruit and vegetable I produced from my 1 acre home in Tampa. January 2020, I reflected on my year’s harvest and was surprised by how little I grew and ate. Now in 2020 I am focusing on what grows copiously without a lot of work to get my numbers up. I grow a ton of true yams, passionfruit, katuk, moringa, Chaya, chayote squash and Seminole pumpkin. Currently I am growing a lot of okra. Even though I don’t love some of these crops I use them to help the society around me by bartering, trading or selling my surplus. I also focus a lot of my attention on food waste. I jam, pickle or freeze a lot more now to save what I grow. This year I jammed several jars of Surinam cherries – not because I love them – but because they grew abundantly. Combined with strawberries the jam tastes great. Preserving your own food and reducing food waste helps your wallet. Growing as much food as possible and not wasting it helps with the environment as well. It cuts down your food miles and saves on fossil fuels needed to grow and transport the crops. Growing food that is well suited for your ecosystem limits your need for fertilizers, are more resistant to pests and offer flavor profiles that you can’t find at the grocery store.” –Kenny Coogan, local Tampa Homesteader, Chicken Keeper, Nurseryperson, Agriculture Educator, and Global Sustainability Grad Student.
Georgea Snyder, Sustainable Living Project – Tampa
The Sustainable Living Project is a place for community, education, and learning sustainable growing practices. I encourage you to check them out!
Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the Sustainable Living Project, run by the wonderful Georgea Snyder (who doesn’t know I’m doing this…), a long-time customer of our store and someone who is doing an excellent job at the hard work to run a garden that exists because of the efforts of the volunteers she “recruits” and coordinates.
Their mission is: “to affect positive change in the community towards becoming more sustainable and healthy in our everyday lives. Using sustainable living on our urban farm and education center as a model to serve, educate, and build community through example, hands-on experiences, and education. We describe SLP as a place where people can be immersed in the world of sustainability and community. We implement innovative and traditional technologies that help reduce our impact on the environment. Our 1 acre plot houses 34 grow beds (10 of which are dedicated to Veteran volunteers & programming, 3 sheds, a water catchment system, patio with solar panels, a greenhouse with aquaponics, a chicken coop, bee hives, a biodigester, and a 12 stall compost station. All of these elements play a part in our exploration of what it means for our bodies, communities and planet to be healthy.”
Well, I hope seeing these amazing folks doing stellar sustainability things has inspired you to work on your family’s sustainable food sources. There’s so many aspects to help sustainability, and ways to grow your own food, it can be overwhelming. But don’t panic! We’re here to help.
Fall gardening season is coming up – Fall Garden Seed Planting STARTS IN AUGUST! – so when you have questions, when you need supplies…we’re here. We’ve got free Garden Guides in the store that we publish to use as a reference tool. We’ve got classes too, great for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
We’re here to help, just a short drive away to see us in Tampa. Check out the buy online and pickup in store – we call it “Buy & Fly” – at shellsfeed.com/shop. Call us if you don’t see what you’re looking for – not every one of our approximately 5000 items we carry is online.
I’m quite hungry as I write this, so tasty treats are on my mind. I’ll use this inspiration as the motivation to write about one of my favorite topics – food. Especially Summer food.
There’s just something magical about creating food that cools, refreshes, and hydrates you when you need it the most…like when it’s hot outside! (and boy is it – my car registered 101 degrees F yesterday!)
One of my fondest memories of Summer as a kid was going out to Daddy’s garden, picking tomatoes (and whatever else was ripe and ready!), doing some weeding, feeding any worms we found to the neighbor’s chickens, and then coming back in to cool off. Cooling off usually entailed lunch (a kid’s favorite time of day, to be sure)!
Tasty Treats #1: Tomato & Mayo Sandwich
Often my lunch of these Summer-time moments was a Tomato and Mayo sandwich. Nothing says Summer like this sandwich (and the Gainesville Times agrees with me!). If the South had a song, this sandwich would be a key lyrical point.
Simple. Delicious. Affordable.
Fresh tomatoes, sliced into thick circles, placed on bread smeared with a healthy portion of mayonnaise. Salt, pepper. Done. You’ll find other variations, additions, people “gourmet-ing it up”, but honestly, nothing is better than just simple.
What else can one say about this sandwich? Well, it transports me back to a simpler time, and for a moment the stresses of the modern world retreat. I smile. And when the sandwich is gone I dream of the next one.
Tasty Treats #2: Blueberry, Watermelon, Mint & Feta Salad
Now, I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of eating melons. BUT, in this salad, they’re actually quite good. It doesn’t hurt that I REALLY love blueberries, feta, mint, and balsamic vinaigrette. If you love all these things, this is a great cool-down refreshing salad to make.
Watermelon has hydrating qualities that can’t be overlooked on hot summer days. Made mostly of water and fiber with a little sugar, served cold it can literally bring down your body temperature in a matter of minutes. Watermelon is also one of the best hydration delivery systems ever – no salt-laden sugary chemical drinks needed!
It’s as easy as it looks folks, cube up some watermelon, add blueberries, crumbled feta, torn mint leaves, and toss lightly, then chill in the fridge for about an hour or so, take it out, drizzle balsamic vinaigrette, and serve. Yum!
Tasty Treats #3: Agua Fresca with Cucumber, Lime, and Mint
Are you sensing a Mint theme here? Yeah, me too. I just can’t help myself.
Mint is used in both Eastern and Western medicines to cool the body, so it’s no wonder it’s in a lot of foods for hot climates.
Cucumber is another food that is excellent at hydrating a parched body. It’s mostly water and fiber, so your body can quickly get the water to your tissues. When you see them over people’s eyes in a spa treatment, it’s because contact with cucumber juice instantly cools and hydrates puffy and/or dry eyes.
Lime (and any citrus, really) has some extra sugars and vitamins to add to your refreshing Summer drink to help you hydrate (and they’re tasty too).
The recipe is in the link under the picture. You won’t regret making it! For an additional bit if zing, use water from a Soda Stream machine to give it a little fizz.
Thanks for letting me ramble on about food. I’m going to go make a Tomato & Mayo sandwich and remember my childhood for a few minutes before I move on to my next task for the day!
It’s getting to be that HOT time of year! But really, I’ve not seen it so MILD as it has been this year (2020) this late in the year! Some parts of our country had SNOW just a week ago, and here in Central Florida we had temperatures in the 60s in MAY! It’s really been a special Spring season this year. I hope you’ve been outside enjoying is as much as possible.
I don’t know about you but my garden is doing pretty well!
I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you pictures from my garden, what I’ve been up to, and some of the interesting thing’s I’ve seen and done. I haven’t even gotten around to planting everything I wanted to – Coronavirus stole most of my free time and energy this Spring trying to make sure we had our store open to serve you – but I’m enjoying what I do have, and stuff from Winter/Spring is not bolting as quickly because of the cooler temperatures.
I did plant a lot more flowers than usual this year, and the bees and butterflies are loving it. I planted a lot of wildflowers as well, and that patch hasn’t bloomed yet, I think it will have to get a bit hotter to make that really thrive. Some of the Florida Native wildflowers I planted never germinated, so will have to try again. Hey, even us garden writers have failures!!
Right now, my sweet potato slips are going very strong – great young vines developing right now that I’ll be attempting to train to climb my hog panel trellis (it’s like herding cats…really). Some of the ones that get a little unruly I clip and root to give to friends and neighbors. If you have lots of leaves already, you can use some of the really young tender leaves in recipes like you would spinach (great tip for you foodies out there!).
The vines that are already climbing the trellis are from a slip that I found growing on my counter and stuck in the ground in January. Yes, that’s right, all that is from ONE slip. Sweet potatoes LOVE Florida. Did you know that they are part of the same family as morning glories? That’s why they have those pretty purple flowers!
Speaking of potatoes, and flowers, my regular potatoes made flowers – I usually miss them when they bloom but I happened to get pictures this time. I have a row each of Red Pontiac, White Kennebec, and Yukon Gold, and the flowers bloomed on a couple of my Red Pontiac plants.
Potatoes are part of the nightshade family, and you can see the relation to other nightshades like eggplant and tomatoes in the shape of the flowers and the stalks. It’s amazing how similar they all are structurally! I’m hoping to see the tomato-like “fruits” happen after the flowers are spent. If I see them I’ll be sure to snap a picture and share it on our social media page. No, you can’t eat those fruits from the potato flowers – they’re usually poisonous.
Something has been stealing my pigeon peas…I got a good 2 rounds of harvest from my one pigeon pea “tree” and I get flowers on the tree, and haven’t seen any peas since. I do, however, see pods on the ground…so it’s likely squirrels. They’re robbing me of my pigeon peas and rice dinners…not happy about that. I did plant some more pigeon peas, so When those grow up maybe I can get some harvested before they all get eaten by the tree rats.
I still have carrots and a cabbage left from the winter…probably going to pull all of them out here pretty soon and make way for more cowpeas in that bed. I’ve been planting a lot of marigolds to help keep the bad pests away, and it definitely seemed to help my cabbages! Plus that bed is faltering in it’s nitrogen content – some of the plants that do grow are runts, so it’s time to plant beans so that the nitrogen can get fixed in the soil. I’ll probably have to get some Shell’s 3-3-3 organic into that bed to help the beans and cowpeas along a little bit. I try not to use too much fertilizer at all if I can help it through crop rotation, but sometimes you just have to help nature along a little bit!
I also planted a few Moringa seeds that I picked up from a lovely couple at one of our Seed Swaps, but only 3 of the 12 germinated. I’m doing everything I can to hang on to those seedlings, I really want some Moringa trees! It’s a great superfood, and nearly everything on the tree is edible!
One of the most asked questions we get at the store is “What should I plant right now?” Normally if you’re in the store we hand you one of our garden guides, which has a handy-dandy planting chart on one side and advice for the gardening chores to do this month on the other, and send you on your way with whatever products you came in for that day. This article from last year goes a little deeper, and even has some other great links inside it. Do check it out when you get a chance.
I could keep writing about my garden – I love it so much – but I will stop there for now. My garden is my place to take out frustration (very satisfying pulling weeds, and hand-tilling the soil), get some sunshine and fresh air, and see beautiful things. All in my own back yard. I’m happiest when I’m out there, hanging out with the dogs, working on a project with my fiance, or just sitting and relaxing on the swing.
I hope you’ve made your own beautiful place. If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?
Victory Gardens Keep Families Fed! That’s something that might have been heard during the World Wars of the earlier part of the 1900s. But I’m here, bringing it back – because Victory Gardens are as relevant today as they ever were.
We are in a time of fear and uncertainty, to be sure. And the mainstream media is not helping…they’re making more money than ever preying on your fears and insecurities while raking in advertising dollars and paying out BIG bonuses to Execs…oh, wait, that soapbox is for another day. I digress.
This COVID-19 pandemic burst our “first world” security bubble and caused us all to re-evaluate what is truly necessary in our lives, and really look at what we often take for granted: the availability of food.
We hear in the news that farmers are dumping thousands of pounds and gallons of food in the fields because it’s going to waste from the decrease in business of restaurant purchases and more. It surprised even me to learn that dairy farmers (which my family owned a dairy, back in the day) are dumping milk by the truckload, but when I go to the store the milk shelves are empty.
It’s time to take a good look at our food distribution, and what we, as individuals, can do to make it easier for ourselves when a crisis happens. Many areas do not benefit from access to fresh fruits and vegetables at all those areas are called “food deserts” and they are a real problem in the urban areas of the US and it was happening WAY before this pandemic.
One thing I can tell you, living in a hurricane-afflicted state, is that being prepared is everything. And we CAN prepare for what amounts to an agricultural collapse – and a collapse of the food system in general – by being PROACTIVE and growing our own. Providing for our families and putting food on the table in a physical way.
Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about Victory Gardens, the 2.0 version. I’m talking about fresh greens that you snip from your back yard and bring in to wash up for dinner. I’m talking about picking turnips and onions and cabbage and making soup for dinner. Fresh tomatoes, lettuce, radish, and bell peppers for a salad.
It’s not a fantasy. It can be yours, with a little extra and consistent effort.
You don’t even need a yard – there’s this cool thing called the EarthBOX! That’s a story for another day (or for a class! Stay tuned for that announcement soon!). I’ll show you a picture:
Now, I don’t consider myself a “prepper”, like you see on these “reality TV” shows. I think I’m just pragmatic. And I remember how my Dad survived on what he grew and how he bartered fresh veggies for meat, and went fishing and sold fishing worms to feed himself.
I want to know that I can survive on what I can produce myself. And I can. Can you? If not, well, right now we’re all stuck at home with power and internet…so why not learn more about gardening? Or maybe you want to raise chickens? Learn about that! So much better than watching the news.
At Shell’s we’ve always advocated for knowledge of how to grow food – whether it be vegetable or animal – and we’re always up for helping people learn.
We have classes and events specifically for the purpose of education; check out our Calendar of Events(which will be pretty empty until this pandemic has passed! But if you’re reading this AFTER Coronavirus is “over” then you can definitely use this link).
We also have a private Facebook group where people can ask questions about gardening (and even the occasional chicken question!).
We scan the local groups answering questions and pointing out useful products that we carry – hopefully unobtrusively, and always in the name of education.
This willingness to share in the knowledge library that is contained in the minds of our senior staff is why I personally think we will be celebrating our 60th year next year. Our sense of obligation to foster a community of gardeners and urban farmers is one of our greatest strengths as an organization.
Additionally, I believe that one of Tampa’s greatest assets is that when times get rough – we pull together as a giant city-wide team and help each other. #TampaStrong.
So…have I planted the seed of curiosity for anyone considering growing your own food? Do you have questions about Victory Gardens? Contact us today – leave a comment here, or join our private Facebook Group – Shell’s Garden Community – and let’s chat.
I look forward to sharing knowledge…and our community of gardeners has lots to share too!
The world is a different place today than it was about a month ago.
We are encouraged to stay home and self-isolate. Kids are not in school. Parents may not be working. Having everyone home 24/7 can be really stressful!
One way to cope is to have fun projects to do. I’ve got some good ones to share with you that are cheap, easy, and many of you already have these things on hand.
Sparkling Garden Jars
You can add some visual interest to your garden with Sparkling Garden Jars! Many crafty people already have this stuff lying around…if not, you can easily get them at a Dollar store or craft store. (Can’t go out? Use a service like Postmates to run and get it for you, or order online and have it shipped.)
A Glass jar, or a glass – make sure they’re not anything you mind altering permanently – I highly recommend having several glasses, jars, etc to make a display.
Glass floral filler stones in whatever colors you like – they have a rounded top and a flat bottom, they’re often called Glass Gems and come in LOTS of different colors.
Adhesive: examples: E6000, Gorilla Glue, or a Hot Glue Gun with extra strong or jeweler’s glue, or clear caulk like you would use for windows – anything that will adhere to glass and dry clear
Wooden stake(s), or sturdy stick(s) of different heights (suggestion)
OPTIONAL: Other fun see-through small items like beads that won’t melt with a hot glue gun, or shiny plastic jewels if you’re using cold glue (like the “bedazzle” jewels).
Clean your glass/jar out, and remove any oils that might be on the outside.
On a protected surface, turn your glass/jar upside down.
Plan out a pattern for your glass gems and/or other decorations on a flat surface to make it easier to transfer onto the glass/jar. You can use a soft sewing tape measure to measure the circumference and height of the glass/jar so that you know how big your design can be.
Glass Gem Pattern Example:
Prepare your chosen adhesive.
Starting at the lip of the glass (which is at the bottom right now because the glass/jar is upside down), use glue to adhere the decorations onto the glass one at a time. ***If you want to use the lid of the jar later to mount the jar somewhere do NOT glue anything to the jar’s lid threads.*** I recommend covering the lip/bottom first and then continue up the sides, covering the bottom of the glass/jar (which is the “top” now) last.
While that sets, you can take your stake(s) or stick(s) and find a place in the garden to insert it/them into the ground. You’ll want the top of the stick to be above the other plants you’re growing in that area so the jar will be visible.
When your glass/jar is dry, go to the garden and place it onto the stick so that the stick is inside the glass/jar. The jars might move around, and that’s ok, they won’t fall off the stick because of their weight.
You can make multiples of these jars, with different shaped glasses/jars, different colors and patterns, and mounted at different heights, for maximum effect when they are clustered together. I find that odd numbers work best in groups like this.
When the sun hits the decorations, they will shine bright!
Another Glass Gem Pattern Example:
Additional idea: You can use pennies instead of glass pebbles. Shine up the pennies using either silverware polish OR use tomato paste and let the pennies soak in it for about a half hour or so. Use a toothbrush to scrub them clean and the patina color of older pennies should come right off and be shiny copper again! (acid from the tomatoes removes the patina).
Additional idea: You can use these as lights! The project from The Empress of Dirt shows you how (link at the end of this section). You’ll have to use jars with lids and get some solar tealights that fit inside the jars. Decorate as above. Then mount the lid to a fencepost or other structure you choose upside down (the screw lid threads are facing upward). Put the solar tealight onto the lid. Place the jar threads into the lid and twist to close the jar. Great for lighting pathways and fencelines!
Additional idea: Use leftover glass gems and spread them in a shallow dish, like a terra cotta plant drip catcher. Fill the dish with water so that the tops of the stones are NOT underwater. Set this dish out on a flat surface near your flowers. This allows bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to land, rest and take a drink. Make sure you clean and refill daily.
Please note: This project was inspired by The Empress of Dirt, she has wonderful projects: https://empressofdirt.net/gardentreasurejars/ . I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures to show you of my version – this project was something I helped someone else do when I was much younger and they are no longer around!
Super Easy Bird Feeder
Clean and empty tin can(s), label removed
Wood dowels or sticks, about 8-12″ long
Paint and brushes – acrylic is ok
Modge Podge Outdoor (optional)
Ribbon or Twine
Hot Glue Gun and glue.
Peanut butter (optional)
Make sure your tin can is clean and dry.
Using your paint and brushes, paint the outside of your tin can with whatever kind of design (or just a single color) that you want. Let it dry.
Paint a coat of Modge Podge Outdoor over the paint, let it dry. This step is optional, it allows the paint to last longer against the elements. You can choose to not do this step, and instead, re-paint your tin cans more frequently, changing up the look for the seasons, etc. How cute would that be?
Hot glue your dowel or stick to the inside of your tin can so that the stick is adhered along the inside of the can from the bottom to the opening. This is going to be your feathered friends’ perch when the can is hanging from the ribbon/twine.
Next, take a 3-4 foot length of ribbon or twine and fold it at the halfway point to make the loop shown in square 1 below. Make a larkshead knot around the can using the diagram below.
I recommend a Larkshead knot for stability and easy removal.
Next, fill the can about halfway with a seed mix (or a ball of seed mixed with peanut butter if you wish).
When you pick up your can by the ribbon or twine, your tin can should rest sideways and level with your stick/dowel pointing straight out at the bottom of the can, parallel with flat ground. If the can tilts upward, rain and other things will get caught in the can and accumulate; if it tilts downward, the birds will be unsteady and the seed will fall out.
If your can can’t stabilize, consider using a piece of ribbon or twine at the opening and near the base of the can tied in larkshead knots around the can to stabilize it. And of course if larkshead is not working for you, use a standard overhead knot.
Once your ribbon/twine is in the position where the can hangs level, use a little glue to hold it in place so it doesn’t shift with the wind or with bird landings/take offs.
Using the two free ends of the twine or ribbon, you can tie them together with an overhead knot and then hang the can with the seeds from a tree branch, shrub, a shepherd’s hook, or a plant hook. It’s extra special if you can place it near a window where you can watch the birds find it and eat.
Another idea – you can make a feeder stack! Just hot glue the tin cans together top side to bottom side so that your sticks are at the bottom of each can when the cans are on their sides. Sweet, right?
Easy “Hydroponic” Planter
Do you like to recycle? How about upcycle? This project is all about it! While technically not a hydroponic setup, it is indeed a sub-irrigated system, which means it’s watered from the bottom using the wicking properties of cotton and soil.
Plastic 2 liter bottle with cap, label removed
Scissors or box cutter
Cotton twine that is the same length as the bottle is tall.
Starter Plants or seeds
Drill with small bit (about the width of your cotton twine)
First, mark the 2 liter bottle about half- way up from the bottom around the outside. Cut around the bottle at that marking to separate the top from the bottom using the scissors or boxcutter.
Clean the bottle inside and out.
Take the cap off of the top of the bottle. Place it on a surface where drilling won’t harm anything, like a woodworking table, or clamp it in a vice. Using the drill, drill a hole in the center of the cap.
String your cotton twine through the cap. Screw the cap back onto the bottle so that part of the twine is “inside” and the other part is “outside” and set aside.
Take the bottom of your 2 liter bottle and fill it with water about a quarter full. Set it on a protected surface.
Flip the top third of the two liter bottle so that the cap is facing downward and the opening upward. Place it into the bottom piece so that the string dangles in the water, and the cap is closest to the water. This makes a reservoir for planting a plant at the top of your Hydroponic setup. Adjust your string so that the string has an inch or two touching the bottom of the water reservoir and has plenty of string still above the cap.
Next, use potting mix to fill up the portion above the cap, making sure that the string is layered in the dirt. I like to circle the string around where I’m going to plant my plant, maybe an inch or so in from the outer wall of the bottle. Push your soil down to firm it, but not too hard, just enough to make sure the dirt will wick water up from the bottom.
Once you have your potting mix in, make room for your starter plant or seeds in the center, and plant them in the that bottle top inside the string circle you made. If you need more dirt, add it now, until the dirt level is about an inch or so from the top opening.
Add a tiny bit of water to get your starter plant or seeds started (you don’t need much!). Any amount of water needed after that will be drawn up through the cotton twine “wick” from the water reservoir.
To refill the reservoir, lift out the portion of the bottle with the soil in it, and refill the bottom reservoir. This makes it easy to clean out the water reservoir as well, as occasionally it will need it.
This setup will maximize your room to grow herbs while making sure they get the right amount of water. You can’t over or under water…just keep the reservoir full and you’re good to go! You can make one of these for each herb you want to grow.
You can also use smaller plastic bottle to start seeds in using this same method (like the 16 ounce soda or water bottles). What a great way to recycle and reuse!!
And don’t think you can’t expand to other types of plants too using soda or water bottles! Here’s some cute succulent pots (shown below) that you can make with smaller bottles – for succulents make sure you put some pebbles in the bottom and use cactus soil mix! OK, these don’t have the sub-irrigation setup, but they’re a great way to recycle plastic!
Another idea for recycling bottles – a vertical garden!
Here’s another use for a plastic bottle – a hanging garden! Great for a window display, or to string together a bunch along a fenceline.
I hope I’ve given you some fun ideas for the garden using things you probably already have lying around the house.
Stay safe, don’t panic, we’ll make it through this as a community as long as we help each other.
P.S. Do you want some more fun projects? Why not look at my article about DIY Garden Markers? Has lots of great ways to label those containers and garden beds so you know what you planted. Take a look:
Today, I’m going to get real, and a little personal, with you.
Today, we’ll talk about that dark shadow that lurks just outside of our visual field. That shadow is most of humanity’s deepest, darkest fears all summed up into one word: FAILURE.
You know, gardening is a lot like life. Some things you do in the garden are great successes, others not so much. Some ideas you have you might be afraid to try, for whatever reason, and other things you find it easy to ‘give it a whirl’, so to speak. Why is that?
I find that the answer is pretty simple: we’re human. Our own thoughts, fears, upbringing, learned habits, and that little voice of criticism in our heads that speaks up when we don’t want it to, actually drive our actions in life, and consequently, in the garden. We do, or don’t, do something because of some emotional and intellectual math equation we do in our heads before we take (or don’t take) action.
As one of my mentors, Darren Hardy, said in his daily success mentorship video that I watched just this morning, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, in order to reach the success you want, you need to “fail faster”. I look at it like coughing when you’re sick: just like you want to get out all that phlegm, you need to get out all that failure so that you’ve learned everything you need to know to succeed out there in the garden dirt and sunshine.
We’re going to make it even more personal now: I’m going to confess my garden sins. Because I want you to know that even though I write blog content for a garden store, and I even teach gardening classes, I’m human. I’m not perfect. I fail often.
I think the hardest thing for me is the consistency of care that cultivating food requires. Life gets in the way, other priorities take hold of my time (for instance, content writing!), and my garden is often left to fend for itself for much longer than I’d like.
Occasionally, the garden actually fails. Utter, epic failure. But much of the time, it does pretty well, I am able to get food from it, and it’s a delicious success.
You might wonder how I can neglect it and still get at least some produce that I want from it. It’s because I’ve failed miserably before, and got nothing at all from my hard work. It was painful, and disappointing, to admit defeat. I’d failed.
I’ll share with you right now how I can (and how you can) build a garden that tolerates a modicum of what I like to call “benign neglect.”
Take a moment to think back to a heart-wrenching failure that you had in your gardening. Just picture it for a moment, in all its painful glory.
OK, ouch, that hurt. But hang on to that hurt for a second, because you don’t want history to repeat itself.
Now, I want you to keep thinking about all the stuff that happened within that failure, because trust me, it was more than one thing. If it helps you, list it out quickly on a scrap paper.
Your list might look something like this: Forgot to water, didn’t fertilize, planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b, weeds got out of control and covered everything.
Next, I want you to take this list, and pick one thing that you can find a solution for quickly and easily.
In this example, I’m going to pick “forgot to water”. I can fix this easily by getting a sprinkler, hose, and a digital water timer. The timer will turn the water on to the sprinkler for a certain period of time every day or other day, and then shut it back off. There. You’ll no longer have to remember to water. As the days get really hot, you might have to adjust the timer, but that’s super easy to do.
Cross that one off the list. You failed, and you fixed it.
Now, pick another one.
Planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b. Yep, I’ve done that one. If you wrote it like that on your list, it means that you now know better, but you wanted to tempt fate and see if you could make it work. I totally get it, I get a wild hair sometimes and want to try something that I know will probably not work out, just because. I think we humans need to feel like we can control the uncontrollable…and that fundamental need definitely comes out when we’re playing in the dirt.
But if you just wrote “planted lettuce and it died,” I want you to analyze when you planted it and how you took care of it. Something within the when and the how caused the failure. A good place to start with figuring out why something expired before you think it should have is to look at the planting charts for your agricultural hardiness zone. Also, the UF/IFAS (Extension Office) makes it pretty easy, they’ve published a garden guide online that is really useful. You can also come by the store and we can help you with our garden guides (that are based on the ag university’s chart) and knowledgeable staff.
So, all of that said, as I’ve gone back and reviewed what I did right, and more frequently, what I did wrong, applying what I have learned to hedge my bets in the garden. I’ve changed the way I prep soil. I’ve set up the watering systems to help me in case I can’t get out there. I’ve set aside time a couple times a week (OK, maybe only once a week) to pull baby weeds out of the soil so they don’t take control.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned in gardening is this: I’m comfortable with failure. As much as I love science (I have a biology degree and some medical training), I know that I cannot always beat Mother Nature.
That said, she and I enjoy an understanding. It was built on the backs of many a dead plant. The more I fail, the better my understanding, and thus the greater my successes are when they happen.
Now you know my biggest secret: I fail too. And I’m totally fine with it.
Speaking of failure, have you ever heard of the Failure Museum? It’s in Sweden, and they highlight failures in technology over the years. I invite you to watch their video here: https://failuremuseum.com/ I think you’ll find it entertaining, with a nugget of information that you can apply to your gardening, indeed your life, right away.
I wish you the greatest successes in your Spring garden this year!
Are you having a hard time figuring out how to approach Spring Gardening in our sometimes unforgiving Florida climate?
We are very fortunate to have the warmth that we do, with limited cold snaps, and usually plenty of rain.
But for people who learned to garden where there are climate-based seasons, or who have learned through resources meant for places with actual seasons, it can be so difficult to navigate when to garden in Florida.
And that’s where your local neighborhood Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply can help you.
We’ve been gardening here a long time. Our store has been serving the Tampa Bay area since 1961. Back then we were surrounded by farms growing crops and raising livestock. As those farms have been eaten up by the city, we’ve turned our focus on to growing your own backyard vegetables for your family, and to urban farming.
So, with a base guidance from the UF IFAS program, along with our personal experiences gardening in Central Florida, we’ve got a lot to offer to those who are figuring out planting seasons, like Spring, here in Florida.
Sure, we’ve got a class for that! I hope you’ll join me for that – this class is part 3 of a 4 part series that I’ve been putting together seasonally. We started in Fall 2019, then we had a Winter Class, now this is the Spring class. Of course, there will be a Summer class as well.
In the meantime, though, I’ve got a couple of tips for you right here to get started.
Forget about the First Day of Spring
If you’re waiting until the Spring Equinox to start thinking about planting because that’s what your favorite gardening magazine told you to do, I have sad news for you. In Florida you’re WAY too late for many crops.
By the time the Equinox rolls around, it’s already blistering hot outside, and our wet season will be starting soon, which means your tiny seedlings will be more susceptible to fungus, and heat withering.
In Florida, you can start planting seeds in January (or even mid/late December!) for Spring. Yes, I said December. And January.
Also, our strong and healthy Starter Plants arrive usually right around February 1st at our store – and we plan it that way for a reason. Starter Plants can go in the ground starting in February. You can also plant lots of different kinds of seeds in February.
Is there risk of frost this early in the year? Sure. Some years we get a late nip in the air. But there’s ways to make sure that your seedlings survive, and we can tell you all about how to make sure you’re protected. All you have to do is ask.
Container Plantings are a sensible option for Florida Spring Gardening
We’re here to support you in however you want to grow your veggies, or flowers, or trees, or whatever you’ve got going on. Many people choose to plant in the ground, and that’s totally great!
If you’re planting native plants, you really don’t have to do anything to the soil, they’ll be just fine with what you’ve got.
Ground plantings, like raised beds, or mounds, for things that are not native to Florida take some extra special care in the form of soil amendments and fertilizers. This is because we’re trying to force plants that aren’t used to our sandy soil to grow where they don’t really belong. So, we have to amend the soil and add the nutrients that our soil is missing for them to flourish. With a little prep ahead of time. this is definitely do-able.
BUT…you can better control your plantings using containers. You can mix your own soil, add your own nutrients, protect your plants from soil-borne illnesses, and control their sun, water, and climate, when they are in a container.
As far as containers go, you probably know that we’re Tampa’s Earthbox Authority, and we’re HUGE fans of what the Earthbox can do for the things you want to grow, like vegetables and flowers.
Earthbox makes it SO EASY to grow your own. In fact, we want you to experience the joys of Earthbox so much that we have a class for that!
There are also all manner of sizes of black plastic reusable nursery tubs, galvanized and rubber stock tanks, and all kinds of container planting options available at our store too.
We can show you what you need for all these, and you’ll have great results.
Your Spring Options Are Nearly Limitless Here
Spring Gardening in Florida, starting in January, really allows you nearly limitless possibilities on what you can grow. You can still plant cold-weather crops – it’s still cool enough for lettuces and collards and kale, for example, and you can plant warm weather crops like peppers, tomatoes, okra, and beans too.
Spring planting time is when you can plant and enjoy the most diverse gardens here. So, take advantage of our good fortune. Try some new veggies and flowers. Get creative with containers and raised beds.
We’re here to help you. We can answer questions and give you advice if you run into a problem. That’s what we’re here for.
January is the time of Resolutions, and many of those resolutions we make each year focus on health. How about making a resolution you can stick with and enjoy for just a few minutes a day that has a ton of health benefits for you?
Does that sound too good to be true? It’s not.
There is an activity you can do just a few minutes a day and reap a BUNCH of health benefits. That activity is GARDENING!
Today I’m going to list out some of the many health benefits of gardening. To get you even more motivated – and to make sure you don’t think I’m full of compost, I’ll give you extra articles to read that corroborate what I’m telling you here – yes that’s right – SCIENCE!
Starting right here: For a HUGE comprehensive list of the health issues that Gardening can help, listed out in a peer-reviewed medical journal, check out this research article (a meta-analysis) here – it’s really exciting!!
#1: Cardiovascular Health
Regular light activity/exertion like gardening decreases the risk of heart attacks and stroke, and in a way that doesn’t feel like mindless “pointless” exercise (like a treadmill – running nowhere!). Read more about Gardening for Cardiovascular Health here.
#2 Decreasing Stress
One of the markers of Stress in our bodies is the levels of Cortisol found in our blood. A Dutch study tested people’s blood Cortisol levels just after doing a really stressful task, and again after those people spent 30 minutes gardening. Those that did the gardening had lower levels of the Cortisol stress hormone in their blood than those that didn’t garden. The article from the Journal of Health Psychology is here.
Excess Cortisol for extended periods of time – which is an epidemic in the Western World – carries a huge health risk. It causes weight gain, blood sugar imbalances, and cardiovascular issues, amongst other things. Any way that Cortisol can be decreased in our systems is better for us.
#3 Happiness Is Found In Dirt
It sounds like a silly statement, but research has found that there is a bacterium in soil and forested areas that causes an increase in serotonin – one of the “feel good” brain chemicals that is associated with feeling happy and satisfied and rewarded for doing something good.
That bacterium is called Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae) has been shown to naturally decrease anxiety and increase serotonin. We have access to this lovely little creature any time we dig our hands into healthy soil – so get dirty! It’s good for you!
Want to read more? Discover Magazine (a science publication) has an article here. Also, more information about the bacterium itself can be found here (with source articles).
#4 Better Sleep
Light activity, as well as fresh air and sunshine, has been shown to increase the ability to sleep at night. Sleep is not something to be overlooked when it comes to your health – that is the time that the body heals and repairs itself. Not getting enough sleep means that your body cannot recover from the things that happened earlier in the day.
Gardening is the perfect blend of activity, fresh air, and sunshine! Even just a few minutes a day can help. Here’s more information from the University of Pennsylvania.
#5 Stay Strong
Exercise in the garden strengthens the body, especially the hands and arms. Gardening is an activity that can and should be done throughout your lifetime to maintain mobility, dexterity, coordination and more of your hands and fingers for as long as possible.
Even as we age, it is beneficial to keep gardening, even if we have to make some adjustments for ailments like arthritis. To find out more about this, check out this article from the West Virginia University’s Center for Excellence in Disabilities article about Gardening with Arthritis.
#6 Long-term Health Benefits for Children
It’s been found that early exposure to dirt in children has been linked to many health benefits, including reducing allergies, auto-immune diseases, and overall body inflammation when they get older. Some information from WebMD on this topic can be found here.
Also, when you are gardening with your children, you have an opportunity to bond and foster life-long special relationships and create memories to share with all your loved ones.
As a side-note here: Gardening with my father when I was a child is the main reason I garden today – those memories come back to me when I’m digging in the dirt, and it’s pleasant to remember him this way now that he has passed on.
#7 Financial Health
When we worry about money, that stress dumps Cortisol into our bloodstream (see #2 above). When you grow your own vegetables and herbs, you can save a ton of money and decrease the stress of buying food – affording more healthy eating and living too.
We all know organic food is expensive – but if you can grow your own, you not only save the money at the grocery or market, you save the time it took to drive there and the money you spend on gasoline too. And things like looseleaf lettuce can be harvested over and over again – saving you even more money!
This seems like a stretch – I know – but hear me out here.
Successful gardening takes work, and quite a bit of skill that you can easily learn. So, after tilling, planting, weeding, nurturing, waters, and harvesting from your plants, you might see the “blackthumb” that you used to know disappear to make way for that new “greenthumb” badge of honor that you’ve earned.
That kind of accomplishment can change how you view yourself, and sharing your knowledge as well as the bounty of beautiful things you’ve grown changes the way others see you as well. One of the things that makes us uniquely human is the desire to successfully contribute our skills for the betterment of a community of our peers. There’s a great peer-reviewed article about this here.
If you can grow a garden, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING!
So, these are just a few examples of the health benefits of gardening. Are you new to gardening? Are you experienced? There’s always new things to learn and experiment with in the garden. Let’s try something new together! Come see us – it’s time to plant seeds for Spring – we’ll get you started quick!
If you’re reading this in Michigan, you probably think I’m
nuts right now. But where I sit here in sunny Florida, last year at Christmas
is was 80 degress outside. So guess what? Gardening happens in Winter here too!
That means fresh produce from the garden year round. And
that’s great for people who love that fresh-from-the-backyard-harvested-5-minutes-ago
But there are some mistakes you can make in the garden in Florida Winter. Let’s talk about a few so you’re prepared.
Mistake #1: There’s a surprise freeze and you don’t have anything to cover your prized petunias.
This one is pretty simple to avoid — what’s that old Boy Scout motto? Be Prepared!
For Surprise freezes, it’s important to have something on hand and ready to go. I recommend N-Sulate is an awesome product for protecting your crops from the light freezes we may get here (some years we have none, other years we have several, and everything in between).
When used as directed, it is more effective than using old towels and bedsheets, AND it is light enough that it won’t crush young or sensitive plants. So, definitely get some. We have it for you, ready and waiting for you to pick up. And we can make sure you understand how to use this product so that you have the best chances of avoiding frost damage.
Mistake #2: You have no protected place to move your container plants if we do have a freeze.
Trying to move your potted palm into your living room when there’s a freeze coming could present quite a problem, and a mess, for you. But you ran out of room in the garage and don’t know what else to do.
Don’t let that be you!
It’s so important to have an area that you know you can move some of your container plants into in the event of a freeze.
Whether it’s the garage, or a porch, or a greenhouse, make sure there’s a protected space you can put some pots if there’s a freeze coming.
And while you’re at it, secure some help beforehand too, maybe a neighbor where you can make a deal, “I’ll help you move yours if you help me move mine.” No sense in breaking backs, right?
Also, your neighbor might have extra room they’d be willing to let you borrow, you know, for a nice bottle of wine or that awesome appetizer you make with your tomatoes, basil, and some fresh mozzarella. Never be above bartering for help!
So, have a place to put your plants for a freeze. Just in case. You never know when Old Man Winter will take a swipe at us.
Mistake #3: You’ve decided to grow sun-hungry plants this Winter.
Ah, yes, this is a good one!
So, you love tomatoes. You really LOVE them. That’s great, we all need a favorite food (it’s one of mine too).
But did you know that most tomatoes will only reach optimal production with 8+ hours per day of sun? With the shortened amount of daylight in the Winter, as well as the decreased angle of the sun (it’s not high overhead like it is during the summer, it’s more to the South in Winter), your sunlight prospects are usually quite limited during Winter.
Most sun-hungry plants don’t get enough sun in Winter to do much fruiting. That’s why the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Science doesn’t list them as a Winter crop, mainly (the temperature too, but lately, it’s been warm enough).
Now, these sun-hungry WILL grow nice strong stalks and leaves, albeit more slowly, and (BONUS!) with the cooler weather there’s less pests and fungus to contend with.
Many folks have luck planting tomatoes and other plants like it such as eggplants and bell peppers in Winter and then letting them grow strong stems, then they’re ready to start fruiting as we come into Spring when others are just getting their seedlings in the ground.
Of course, you’re gambling with the possibility of a freeze…but hey…worth the risk, right? (And, see #1 and #2 above for help with that).
Just know that those kinds of plants don’t fruit as well this time of year.
There’s the top 3 mistakes we at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply see Florida Gardeners make in the Winter growing season.
Do you want to know more about what you SHOULD plant this Winter in Florida?
This “What to Plant in Your Florida Garden” series is a quarterly class I do seasonally to help people who want to garden in Florida but haven’t quite gotten the hang of what to plant when, and it’s our #1 asked question at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply by our customers. It’s a fun class!
If you moved to Florida but had a great garden up North, this is the class for you. If you’re a Floridian but you were taught to garden by a Northerner, this is also a great class for you.
I hope to see you there!
Until then…keep growing!
P.S. You can always get great gardening tips in my blog, or also from the UF IFAS web resource. Here’s a couple of links for you:
In honor of the City of Tampa fertilizer ban ending this week, I thought it might be fun to answer one of our most asked questions:
“What fertilizers am I supposed use in my garden, and how do I know which ones are needed for each plant?”
Gosh, this is a fun one – and we get asked questions similar to this all the time. So, I’m ready to dive in to decoding fertilizers today.
The first thing I think you need to know about fertilizers is what the 3 numbers on the front of the container mean. These numbers indicate the amounts of the Macronutrients of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in the formula.
Often called the “N-P-K”, which stands for “Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium,” this fertilizer indicator shows you two things: 1) The ratios of nutrients relative to each other; and 2) How many pounds of this product you would need to add 1 pound of that nutrient to the soil.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Ratios
The N-P-K numbers give you what is called “guaranteed analysis” that shows the amounts of the macro nutrients in each bag. It sets the standard for the contents of each bag.
For the ratios, a 10-10-10, or 3-3-3, will have the same exact amounts of all 3 nutrients throughout the entire bag. A 12-6-8, or 6-4-6, will have different amounts of nutrients throughout the entire bag. Higher numbers mean more of that nutrient was added to that formulation, in relation to the relative amounts of the other nutrients.
Since all these different formulations exist, it stands to reason that different ratios of nutrients are good for different plants. In fact, specialty ratios have been developed for certain types of plants. This is why you see specialty fertilizers such as Rose, Azalea, Palm, Citrus, Strawberry, Blueberry, and more.
These special formulations have been shown to increase the growth and production of these specific plants because of the ratios of the three main nutrients. It is based on how those plants assimilate nutrients, how they use them, and observational studies of which nutrients give the maximum amount of the desired result. Yep. it’s science.
Often, these specialty fertilizers will also have additional ingredients too, like micronutrients, humates, mycorrhyzae, etc – check out the back of the bag to see what goodies are in there for those special types of plants.
Alright, up next, it’s time for some math. Ugh, adulting is hard.
N-P-K Indicates Relative Weight
Now, speaking about the second characteristic of the N-P-K rating, the amount to apply to reach 1 pound of that nutrient in the soil, we need to do a little math.
Here’s a simple example: Shell’s 10-10-10 N-P-K fertilizer indicates that you will need 10 pounds of the fertilizer to add 1 pound of each of the nutrients into the soil. You do this math by taking 100 (indicating 100%) and dividing it by 10.
100 / 10 = 10 lbs of fertilizer is needed to yield 1 pound of nutrient applied to soil.
If the N-P-K numbers are all different, like our Shell’s 4-6-8 Citrus Fertilizer, then you’d take each of those numbers and divide them into 100. Your answers will tell you how many pounds of that fertilizer you’d need to put 1 pound of that nutrient into the soil, like this:
So basically the N-P-K numbers are “weights” in a ratio format. Basically the higher the number, the LESS fertilizer you need to achieve the same result.
I know, it’s a little confusing sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with the N-P-K’s with different values for each nutrient.
What Nitrogen Does for Plants
Nitrogen is essential for healthy plant growth. It is an essential component in the process of photosynthesis, and as such it is needed to grow leaves and the stems to support them.
Plants with not enough nitrogen will show yellowing leaves that fall off easily. Plants with too much nitrogen will have leaves that yellow then brown and become “crispy” as the whole plant shrivels and dies (nitrogen burn). So nitrogen has to be in the right balance to help plants.
What Phosphorus Does for Plants
Phosphorus helps plants convert nutrients taken in by the roots and converting them into building block for the plants in their growth process – for example, making proteins that keep stems strong. Phosphorus is essential for root development.
Plants with not enough Phosphorus will have a classic “failure to thrive” identity – they will be small, and will have difficulty flowering or fruiting. Their root systems will be under-developed. They may have either a very bright green or a purple hue to them – these are both signs of Phosphorus deficiency.
What Potassium Does for Plants
Even in modern science today, the specific interactions of Potassium with plants remains a mystery. That said, we know what happens with plants when they don’t have enough, so we can extrapolate from that.
Potassium increases the rate of growth of the whole plant. It makes them use water more efficiently and makes them more drought resistant. With the correct amount of potassium plants are able to fight off disease and pests. They also produce more flowers, and fruits.
Potassium deficiency is hard to spot, but sometimes in the older leaves there will be brown spots, yellow edges of the leaves, yellow or brown veins. Overall the plant will not perform well.
How Do I Know If My Soil Has What My Plants Need?
Well, that’s pretty simple, really. Soil can be tested!
There are soil test kits – we carry them. There is also your local UF Extension office – they can test your soil for you, and if you need further testing, they have resources where you can have a more full analysis of your soil done for you.
If you’re serious about finding out a full analysis of your soil with a full report of what you can do to make it ideal, there are private and/or commercial facilities that will take your soil and test it with full reports.
I found a small list of providers at Fine Gardening’s website, edited to remove links that no longer work.
Woods End Research Laboratory PO Box 297, Mt. Vernon, ME 04352; 207-293-2457 www.woodsend.com
I definitely suggest starting with the local Extension service. They’re there to help!
Diagram of Plants and How Macronutrients Help Them
Side by Side Comparison of Nutrient Deficiencies
What Do I Use For My Vegetable Garden?
Now that you know all of this great information, the choice should be easy.
A well balanced fertilizer is great for your vegetables and herbs to help promote growth of the whole plant. Formulas like Shell’s 6-6-6, 8-8-8, and 10-10-10 are great for gardens. If you love the idea of organic food growing, Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Garden Mix Fertilizer is AMAZING for gardens, lawns, landscapes, ornamentals…really anything you want to grow.
For your trees, ornamentals and specialty plants, there are a wide variety of specialty fertilizers available for them. Ask us when you get to the store and we’ll point you in the right direction.
I will say that it is very beneficial to have your soil tested for the Macronutrients. Your soil may not need fertilizer, and adding more would contribute to leaching of these nutrients in the the ground water and our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. When we add too much nitrogen, our porous soil allows the nitrogen to leach out, adding lots of nitrogen to our water table and our ocean. Then algae get a growth boost, and we have what’s called “red tide.”
“It’s like the old adage – too much of a good thing can be bad.”
The fertilizer ban legislation happened because of humans using too much chemical fertilizer in the environment and not planting plants that are native to Florida which tolerate the “challenging” soil we have here. Our soil is just fine for Florida native and naturalized plants – we only find it challenging because we try to grow things that normally wouldn’t grow here, and chemically force them to survive.
Compost, clean dry leaf litter, pine bark or needles, straw/hay, old mulch, and wood chips are all great organic matter to add to your soil. As it decomposes over time, all of the NPK nutrients in that plant matter is eaten by the critters and microbes in the soil. The Nitrogens, Phosphorus, and Potassium in those materials are thus made available to the plants that are growing now.
It takes time, but amending with organic material is the best long term way to ensure that your soil has plenty of N-P-K and other nutrients for your plants. And…organic materials can be collected from your yard either for free, or it’s kitchen scraps and other waste that would have gone to the landfill…which you can collect and compost yourself.
I hope this fertilizer tutorial was helpful to you! Let me know if you have any questions.