Be Confident in Your Fertilizer Choices Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

N-P-K Indicates Relative Ratios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N-P-K Indicates Relative Weight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Nitrogen Does for Plants

The Nitrogen Cycle

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

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

Too much Nitrogen (bottom leaf)

What Phosphorus Does for Plants

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

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

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

Phosphorus deficiency – notice the purple edges?

What Potassium Does for Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diagram of Plants and How Macronutrients Help Them

Side by Side Comparison of Nutrient Deficiencies

See? Plants CAN talk back!

What Do I Use For My Vegetable Garden?

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

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

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

This aisle can be overwhelming…so let us help!

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

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

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

Make your own organic material by composting!

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

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

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

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

Keep growing!

Marissa

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

Guide to Your Florida Summer Garden

shells feed garden supply tampa florida guide to summer garden

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

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

Peppers and small tomatoes are a summer treat!

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

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

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

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

Eggplants can do well in the heat.

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

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

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

Summer Gardening Tip #2 – Plant for the Heat

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

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

Sunflowers dazzle in the heat of day.

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

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

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

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

Watering is key to a healthy summer garden.

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

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

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

Summer Gardening Tip #4 – Observe & Report

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

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

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

Simple example of a garden journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon!

Marissa

3 Best Reasons to Compost

shells feed garden supply tampa florida compost composting recycle recycling mulch organic food waste soil dirt garden gardens gardening

To Compost or Not to Compost – is it really a question? It’s the week before our EXCITING new class – Composting 101 on 4/27/19 at 10 am – and I wanted to write a blog about this amazing topic to entice you to take our super-informative class!

But first, maybe you aren’t really familiar with the term. So here’s a little help on that front.

What is composting?

Composting with food scraps in worm bin vermicomposting
There is a wide variety of
items that can be composted,
and a few that should not.

Composting is taking organic matter and, through the natural process of aerobic (requiring oxygen) decomposition, making nutritious healthy soil for the garden, yard and landscape.

Composting is a great idea for many different reasons. As a kid, the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” program and slogan was instituted, and was very popular. That idea still exists today, but has been adapted in many different ways. Here’s the three best reasons to get composting today!

Reason #1: Composting Makes Great Soil to Grow Better Plants

The native soil here in Florida is great for native Florida plants, but as you probably know it is not the greatest for planting vegetable gardens and other non-native ornamentals. Us gardeners spend a lot of time adding soil amendments to try to make our desired plants happy and it’s a LOT of work.

shells feed garden supply mr shells compost pile greens pitchfork turning pallet upcycle chicken wire
One of Mr. Shell’s Compost piles, with the pitchfork for aerating.

One of the easiest ways to change the quality of the soil is by adding compost to the existing soil. You can make your own compost! Composting your food waste, vegetation scraps, dead leaves, small twigs, wood chips, paper waste, pulled weeds (no seeds), and more. The compost that is created by the decomposition of these materials makes a great organic addition to the native sandy soil, making it better for the kinds of plants that vegetable gardeners want to grow for food.

In addition, studies are showing now that adding synthetic nitrogen sources is causing further soil depletion by destroying carbon stored in the soil.

That means it’s possible that what we’ve thought all along that synthetic materials that help plant growth reverse the greenhouse gas effect…when in fact it could be making it worse. When you compost, you don’t have to worry about that…all the nutrients come from natural sources and work to benefit the soil they are placed in.

Reason #2: Composting Is A Great Way To Reduce Waste in the Landfill

landfill

One of the best reasons for composting is that our landfills are just bursting at the seams as far as everything that we throw away.

WHAT IF YOU COULD ELIMINATE 40% OF THAT GARBAGE RIGHT NOW? Would you do it? About 40% of the trash that goes to the landfill is compostable – which means that we could return all the nutrients from discarded food and plant-based materials to the earth quickly and efficiently.

One of the great side benefits of composting is that you realize how much of your purchased produce goes to the landfill. Being aware of what you toss into your compost makes you buy less at the grocery, so you save money! What a great bonus, right?

Reason #3: Composting Reduces Our Impact on the Planet

As if you needed a third reason to compost…but wait – there’s more.

Much of the food waste that goes to the landfill doesn’t decompose with oxygen. It gets buried and undergoes anaerobic decomposition, which produces methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is causing global warming, and landfills are a major contributor. You could do your part to keep food waste out of the landfill…enough people do that and we could literally save the world!

Did you put on your superhero cape? I just did.

shells feed garden supply tampa florida compost superhero composting eliminate food waste make soil garden gardening
Are you a compost superhero?

Are you ready to learn how EASY it is to compost in your own yard or patio? Attend our Composting 101 class on Saturday, April 27, from 10-11:30am. Our instructor is Amanda Streets from the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance, and she is very excited to come speak in Hillsborough, as the Hillsborough Community Composting Alliance has just begun its work to bring composting initiatives to Tampa and the surrounding areas.

You will learn EVERYTHING you need to get started right away from this 90 minutes, and you can have all your questions answered! Plus there will be freebies and a giveaway…this class will pay for itself many times over.
Seats are $10 a piece (she normally charges double that or more, but she is excited to get her message out – this is probably a one-time price!). Join us!!

Hope to see you there…until then…happy gardening!

Sincerely,

Marissa

Creating Pollinator Habitats in Your Yard

It is estimated that 90% of flowering plants, and over 30% of human food crops require pollinators to reproduce, such as creating the fruits and vegetables that we eat, and creating new flowering plants in our environment.  Additionally, pollinators are an integral part of the widely diverse and complicated web of relationships between all living things on Earth.

Without them, we literally lose life on our planet.

Although bees are the first thing to come to mind on the topic of pollinators, it goes well beyond that. Bees are a large portion of the incredibly diverse group of pollinators, but they aren’t doing all of the work. Other insects, such as wasps, ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, and moths, and animals, such as hummingbirds and bats, are all part of the fragile and necessary pollination process.

Research has shown that the numbers of native and domesticated pollinator populations are declining. The wide use of pesticides and increased habitat loss, as well as new diseases, are wiping out pollinator species all over the world. They are struggling to survive, as well as struggling to pollinate all the plants that need their help to reproduce.

OK, that’s all the depressing news. Here’s the good news:

YOU can help your local pollinators. Yes, you can make a difference in all of our lives and help your community continue to grow and thrive. It’s not only possible to help your local pollinators, but it can be easier than you think and you’ll reap the rewards of helping struggling beneficial insects while boosting the health of your garden.

Here’s a few tips:

Create a native plant garden

Here in Tampa we are part of an area known as the Outer Coastal Plain, which spreads along the East Coast of the US from Delaware south through parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, and most of Florida.  No matter what area of the world you live in, your local pollinators rely on native plants to eat and reproduce. In many cases, pollinators don’t even recognize exotic plants and won’t be drawn to them for nectar and pollen! Some examples of our favorite plants native to our area include:

Trees & Shrubs:

Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Common Wax Myrtle (Marella cerifera)

Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana)

Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor)

Azaleas (Rhododendron alabamese, Rhododendron atlanticum, & Rhododendron austrinum)

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Perennials:

Red Milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata)

Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)

Showy Aster (Eurybia spectabalis)

Blue Lobelia (Lobelia elongata)

Narrowleaf & Savanna Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius & Helianthis heterophyllus)

Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium)

Having native plants to help the pollinators eat, shelter, and reproduce will help ensure that they are available to pollinate your garden and keep local biodiversity thriving. You’ll host a home for many important pollinators, and you’ll enjoy the bonus of a low-maintenance garden full of local natural beauty, too.

Plant Pollinator-friendly No Pesticide Zones

Many garden chemicals kill beneficial insects along with the pests you are targeting. Having areas where no pesticides or herbicides are used at any time helps pollinators survive. If you MUST spray your vegetables or show-garden, please only do so when most pollinators are not active, and only on days when it’s not windy to keep the spray from travelling.  Pollinator.org has some good resources on when pollinators are active in your area so that you can be sure, including info for Pollinator Week from June 18-25, 2018. It’s important to remember that the chemicals linger and can still kill bees and other beneficial insects. Hand-picking and other pest remedies are much safer for your pollinators.

I recommend planting an area of the yard that receives no clipping, mowing, sprays, herbicides or any other disturbance. Once planted, allow this area to flower, reseed itself, and grow unhindered (you can trim the edges of the area, as some plants spread). Including plants listed above, as well as other pollinator-friendly plants listed below, will go a long way to ensuring the survival of pollinators in your area. This little patch will be a tiny slice of paradise for your local pollinators, and the native plants that take over are a great reminder of some of the amazing natural beauty we have around this area!

Here’s some garden pollinator-friendly plants to consider:

Catnip                                                                          Sunflowers

Iris                                                                                Purple tansy

Lavender                                                                     Coreopsis

Roses                                                                            Goldenrod

Salvia                                                                          Penstemon

Provide Water and Shelter in your Pollinator Garden

We all need shelter and water, and your local Pollinators are no exception.  In fact, The Pollinator Partnership has created a contest called The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge that you can enter and help your pollinators thrive while having a lot of fun.

Here are a few ideas to keep in your pollinator garden area:

  • Safe areas of bare ground – Andrenid bees, Sweat bees, Digger bees, Plasterer bees, Squash bees, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Gourd bees all like undisturbed, bare soil areas for nesting and resting. This can be provided in areas where not much grows anyway, or an area that is cleared WITHOUT CHEMICALS for this purpose.
  • Upside-down old planting pot habitats – Bumble bees and wasps are attracted to areas that have space, darkness, and one opening to enter and exit. Once it’s there, don’t disturb it.
  • Tunnels and human-made cavities for shelter – Bumble bees, Beetles, some Leaf-cutter bees, and Mason bees like this kind of cover.
  • Habitats of stacks of soft dead wood, like poplar, cottonwood, willow – frequented by Large Carpenter bees, they make it into a home by carving the wood. Beetles also make tunnels in wood that Leaf-cutter bees will take over after the beetle emerges.
  • Pithy stems for habitats, like Rose or Blackberry Canes and bamboo – small Carpenter bees, Leaf-cutter bees, Mason bees, and Yellow-faced bees prefer these small tunnel-like structures.
  • Stacks of sticks & logs for shelter – many bees, as well as native wasps and other beneficial insects, use this kind of terrain as shelter and homes.
  • Shallow watering pools – using a shallow terra cotta, concrete, or plastic tray (like one for catching water under potted plants), place rocks with flat smooth sides in the tray and then fill with water, leaving the top of the rock surfaces exposed. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will land on the rocks to rest and sip water. Make sure to place it in or near your pollinator garden so that they have everything they need in a close area. Because of mosquitoes, the trays will have to be cleaned out often, but supporting our pollinators by providing easy water sources is worth the 60 seconds of extra maintenance work.

If you would like more information about how to help your local pollinators, check out this document from The Pollinator Partnership and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign for our region.

Other great resources include:

http://fws.gov/pollinators

www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers

http://nappc.org

Let us see what you’re doing for our local Tampa pollinator population by commenting below or tagging us on Facebook (go Like our Facebook page and then use the “@ShellsFeed” in your post to tag us).

Thank you for reading!

Marissa

“Want to get more updates on what’s new at Shell’s Feed? Like us on Facebook!

 

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Best Tomatoes To Grow In Tampa

Best Tomatoes To Grow in Tampa
By Marissa

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

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

Great Performers

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

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

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

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

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

Heirloom

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

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

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

Get Your Snack On

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Gardening! – Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Providing Pollinator Habitats

Considering the decline in pollinator populations, it is imperative that we provide pollinator habitats.

A couple of days ago in Protect The Pollinators we talked about the important role that pollinators play in the food chain. We also went over how pollinators are declining in numbers.

We can provide food and shelter to help keep local pollinator populations in our area healthy and helpful.

Tips To Attract A Pollinator

pollinator– Plant an area of flowers rich in nectar and pollen which flower at different times during the growing season

– Plant larger clumps of the same variety

– Plant flowers in sunny areas that are sheltered from wind

– Bees favorite colors are blue, purple, white, and yellow and they like a variety of shapes

– Do not use any pesticides in the area that you are leaving for the pollinators, chemical or organic

pollinator – Provide sheltered areas for pollinators to nest, and if you are so inclined, you can raise colonies of honeybees!

 

 

 

 

 

Pollinator Flower Favorites

Here’s a pretty infographic you can refer to when you are planting your Pollinator Garden.

pollinators flowers bees

Thanks,

Marissa, Director of Communications

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.