Grow These In Florida This Winter

Grow These In Florida This Winter

By Marissa

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

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

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

 

Florida Winter Garden Pick #1 – Kale

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

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

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

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

 

Florida Winter Garden Pick #2 – Broccoli

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

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

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

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

Florida Winter Garden Pick #3 – Cabbage

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

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

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

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

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

 

Florida Winter Garden Pick #4 – Carrots

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Winter Garden Pick #5 – Onions

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Growing Florida Strawberries in Containers: The Pro Edition

Growing Florida Strawberries in Containers: The Pro Edition
By Marissa

We know that when it comes to gardening in Florida, so many people are gardening in very small spaces, like balconies, patios, or tiny yards. We like to call this urban farming!

Container gardening makes growing food easier in so many ways, but in other aspects growing in containers presents its own challenges. In my opinion, the challenges are easy to overcome, and the benefits far outweigh the extra little things you have to plan for to be successful at growing food in containers. If you know how to approach it right, containers can make some things possible to grow at home that you haven’t before.

Growing these tasty berries can be possible wherever you have space and 8 hours of sunshine! Actually, many of these tips can be used to grow any food or edible plants in containers too. We talked with Rob Clemons from Bob’s Berries in Riverview for some extra great info from an all-natural organic berry farmer so that you have the best foot forward to get your own berries at home.

A Little About Strawberries

In our previous strawberry article, we talked about how to prep and plant delicious strawberries in the Florida climate – complete with a few extra tips and tricks from our own gardens. Much of what we have to talk about here is the same, but tweaked for container life.

Strawberries are hardy little plants. The plant itself is an herb, and the berries are fruit, of course. Strawberries are the only fruit that have seeds on the outside of the skin!

Why Plant in Fall?

As you know, temperatures during the Spring and Summer in Florida are REALLY warm. Strawberry plants are prone to heat intolerance – they just don’t handle the stifling 90+ degree days that we have during that time very well. They wilt from the water evaporation out of the soil, and the leaves burn from the sun. That’s no way to treat a friend, right?

Fall is the answer. The weather is still warm for the planting phase when roots and leaves are developing. Declining temperatures as the Fall season cools off keep them from burning, and pests are less active. It’s the perfect time of year for your plants to treat you with delicious fruit..

Why Plant in Containers?

Container growing has several advantages to make homegrown strawberries and fruits possible:

  • Less weeds to pull – plus you can easily cover the soil to keep weeds out.
  • Less pests to deal with.
  • You can monitor their sun exposure and easily move them if they get too much, or too little. It’s so much simpler to pick up and move a pot than your whole garden!
  • You completely control their root ecosystem: soil, water and food – all the things that they require to live and thrive.
  • You can move the plants when a freeze is predicted to protect them from freeze damage, too. There is a blog article in our archives about protecting from a freeze here.
  • Native soils can carry diseases and/or organisms that cause damage to the plants, so containers with new soil protect them from these problems.

On the other hand, there can also be challenges to overcome:

  • Containers tend to drain faster than the ground, so you may need to water more often.
  • Containers cannot dissipate heat as well as the ground, so the roots get hotter than plants in the ground, especially if the container attracts and holds heat (like concrete). The same goes for cold temperatures, too.
  • In general, container plants need more food than plants in the ground, so ensuring that they keep producing will require a little more maintenance than ground beds.
  • Native soils can carry beneficial microbes that help the plant take in nutrients more efficiently, which the soil in containers won’t have (unless you add them!).

To container plant or not to container plant? Really, it’s up to you. What’s that old saying? You don’t know until you try it.

What could be a container for a strawberry plant?

There are LOTS of kinds of containers out there, for sure. There are so many varieties I’ve seen work just fine, so it comes up to your choice:

Much of your decision on container type depends on what you want to do with your plants. Consider things like how many plants you are growing, where they will be growing, and if you know you need to move them, how big they can be to be able to lift them when they are filled with wet dirt.

Of course, some containers, like the “gutter growers” shown are meant to be set up like long racks of plants and left in place. The berries cascade over the sides, making growing virtually weed-free and picking really easy. This is how Rob Clemons of Bob’s Berries does his U-Pick strawberry area, and he has great success with the system that he has built – all chemical and pesticide free! It’s so exciting to see his farm, I highly recommend a visit for strawberry or blueberry picking! His strawberries are so delicious we were hungry for all his tips and hints for growing the best fruit, including and beyond container tips.

How many should I plant in my container?

You will want to make sure you don’t overcrowd your strawberries. In an Earthbox, for example, it is recommended to grow only 6 plants in that space so that the root balls can extend enough to get all the nutrition they need to grow flowers and eventually fruit. I would recommend that if you have a 1 gallon pot, for example, you only grow a maximum of 1 plant in that pot, maybe 2 if you feed them enough. An Earthbox holds close to 2.5 cubic feet of soil, which is more than plenty for 6 plants.

Strawberry jars with gaps on the sides make it easy – plant one plant per gap in the side and two in the top.

If you have questions about how many to plant in a pot you already have, reach out to us, we’ll be happy to answer your questions so that you’re set up for strawberry success.

What kind of soil should I use in my containers?

We asked Rob from Bob’s Berries a few questions about how he plants his strawberries:

“Drainage is the most important factor in strawberry growing in general. It is important that they are well watered and that water doesn’t sit around at the root zone. They are very susceptible to root rot.”

When I inspected his growing medium I saw that pine bark made up a lot of it, so I think that’s a good tip too! Pine bark provides good drainage, and it breaks down fast to provide a growing medium to anchor roots to as well.

How do I feed and water my strawberries in containers?

Because most containers are watered from the top, and the water flows down and out of the drainage holes, fertilizer in the soil tends to deplete quickly. You have several options for fertilizing your strawberries. These tips are based on a 1 gallon pot, so adjust the amounts for larger containers:

  • Mix some in the soil at planting time – I recommend a small handful or trowel-full of slow-release fertilizer for mixing into the soil, so that your plants have some sustained food available through most of the initial growth and development stage.
  • Mix a palmful into the top inch or two of soil when the plant starts to flower.
  • Mix a palmful into the top inch or two of soil when the plant starts to fruit.

Your plant will probably go through several cycles of flowering and fruiting, make sure they are fed well during these times like the above steps for great sweet strawberries throughout the season.

Rob shared the following tips about feeding as well:

“Initially it is important to feed plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus to help it grow nice green foliage and strong roots” (Tiger Bloom from FoxFarm has this high phosphorus NPK profile and can be really helpful!). Then you want to go to a fertilizer with high potassium like a liquid kelp to aid in flower and fruit production. Many growers stray away from nitrogen during fruit production because it makes the berries soft and not well suited for packing and shipping but if you’re not doing anything like that, it’s totally fine to continue feeding low doses of nitrogen throughout. Micro nutrients are also very important and will increase mineral density and thus make the fruit sweeter.”

If you are working with the Earthbox, it has its own planting guide. It’s a sub-irrigation grower, which means it’s watered from the bottom and has its own set of rules. We recommend Shell’s Strawberry Fertilizer for Earthbox planting. We love Earthboxes, and if you ever want to know anything about them, just ask. And keep a look out for the Earthbox class we’ll have in the Spring and the Fall (the one for this year already happened – and it was great fun!).

How do I keep pests away?

We asked Rob for his regimen, since his berry garden is all-natural. He advised:

“Aphids, army worms, and crown borers are voracious and detrimental to the health of young plants. For that reason it’s a good idea to use a broad spectrum pesticide on a regular basis until they are well established. We like to alternate neem oil and BT to keep these issues at bay throughout the first month of planting.”

If you’re wanting to see more from Bob’s Berries, check out their website. He wanted our readers to know:

“We are an all chemical and pesticide free farm using only natural products and organic fertilizers. We hope to begin harvesting strawberries around January and through the use of shade cloth, continue harvesting until end of April. At that point blueberry season will be upon us which will last until end of May.”

Any extra tips?

Sure, there’s lots. Definitely more than we can print here. But we’re always happy to answer questions if you have them.

We have a Strawberry growers guide available at the store, and for those of you who ordered your plug plants from us you’ll get a guide when you pick up your order. If you didn’t order from us, well, I’m sure we can still find one for you.

Also, I think you should know that most of the time, your very first berries from your new plants will be a bit deformed. That is totally normal. They’re called “monkey-face” berries because often they look like little chimpanzee faces. Not always of course. You might see a totally different animal…or maybe your sibling…when you look at your berries. They’re still tasty, though, so enjoy them despite their looks!

 

Have fun with gardening – the rewards are so very sweet!

Thanks,

Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

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

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

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

 

“Set”ting Up For Success: Planting Onion Sets

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

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

Let’s Get Set!

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

Quick Note: Which End Is Up?

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

One Set, Two Results

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

Best Onion Garden Location

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

Soil Prep for Onions

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

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

Planting Strategies – 3 for 1

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

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

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

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

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

Landscaping with Edibles – The Fall Edition

Landscaping with Edibles – The Fall Edition
By Marissa

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

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

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

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

Blueberries

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

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

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

Florida Cranberries

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

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

Yaupon Holly

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

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

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

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

Scrub Mint – Calamantha spp

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

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

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

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

Cocoplum

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

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

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

Coral Honeysuckle

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

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

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

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

American Beautyberry

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

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

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

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

Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

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

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

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

 

Herbs & BBQ: Fresh Herbs for Your Cookout

Herbs & BBQ: Fresh Herbs for Your Cookout
By Marissa

We all know and love summer by its other name – Grilling Season. The days are long, and the 4th of July has us in a cookout and BBQ mood. We know that “fresh from the garden” flavor is a treat that can’t be beat in the store, but I’m here to remind you that it’s not just limited to fruits and veggies! Once you’ve started using your own garden herbs, you won’t ever want to go back to store-bought. And I can tell you, fresh herbs are just as delicious on the grill as they are in the kitchen.

Grow Your Own at Home

Growing your own herbs is an all-around win! They look beautiful, will thrive in nearly any sunny spot, and the more you take to cook with, the more enthusiastically your plant will grow! It helps that the best flavor comes from the newest growth – so don’t be shy about grazing for your dinner!

Every plant has its limits for how quickly it can grow your next serving. When you’re pinching off for a meal, take a quarter of the foliage, at maximum. Most herbs will keep growing to give your superb flavor for 3 years or more – that’s a lot of tasty food! After your plant matures and its flavor starts to change you can always keep it as a pretty ornamental plant, and grab a new one for cooking.

Rosemary

Rosemary is the king of herbs and boy, does it seem to know it. This proud Mediterranean native can grow several feet high if you nurture it right. It boasts an earthy, savory flavor that pairs well with nearly anything. I like to use it when I’m cooking pork, chicken, potatoes, and even beef. The flavors get released the more they’re cooked, so be sure you include it while grilling for the best taste.

Some people use the whole branch as a fashionable garnish on their meal, but beware that the stem is woody and not meant to be eaten. Peel the leaves off before you eat (or even before you cook!) for a more functional flavor.

Grilling Ideas:

Sprinkled for flavor: Adding a sprinkle of rosemary will make basically anything on the barbeque taste better. Chop it up and sprinkle over your veggies, potatoes, fish, poultry, meat, or burgers like tasty confetti. The intense heat of the grill will help release the flavor as you cook.

Rosemary marinade: Rosemary is a great spice alone, but can also be part of a fantastic marinade! For a more subtle texture, chop up the leaves finely, then blend with lots of olive oil, garlic, some balsamic vinegar and whatever other spices you want. Soak your pork chops or potatoes for a few hours and get grilling!

Kebabs: To make better use of the whole plant, I’ve soaked the stems overnight after removing the leaves. They made a fun kebab skewer that infused flavor from the inside out!

Thyme

Most of us are familiar with thyme as a winter staple. It’s a treat whenever its flavor is added to soups and roasted meats. In the summer, however, it will boost the taste of your barbeque fish, veggies, and chicken.

Thyme is a stunning plant. It will elegantly spill out of its container and look amazing even as you tear off the odd fistful to cook with. It will add cool Mediterranean vibes to your garden with its tiny silvery green leaves. Not just a pretty face, though, thyme is hardy and tough, so you’ll barely need to look after it.

Grilling Ideas:

Lemon and Thyme: The fine leaves easily peel off the branch, so you’re saved a lot of the work of chopping. This herb tastes phenomenal with lemon. A great summer dish I love is lemon chicken. Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mustard, honey, and thyme. Soak your chicken for a few hours before grilling for juicy chicken breasts full of delightful summer flavor.

Garlic and Thyme: Another powerful flavor duo, garlic and thyme are core flavors in some of my other favorite summer dishes. I love mixing these flavors together on potatoes or steaks, which are brought to the next level on the grill.

Basting Brushes: We’ve all used a brush or spoon to spread our barbeque sauce. That’s so boring! Instead, try mixing a few full sprigs of your favorite garden herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, or even lavender. Bunch these tightly together (you can alsof tie them if you need) and use them as a new herbal barbeque brush. As you use this to spread sauce, your dish will get infused with the flavor of fresh herbs, instead of just the taste of the sauce.

“One Skillet Lemon Thyme Chicken” by Foodista on flickr

Growing your own herbs at home is great because you not only have access to the best flavor right in your backyard, but the easy access means you can be more creative with your food. I promise that using your own herbs will have your family and friends raving about flavor, and it’ll make turning on the grill for some delicious barbeque that much easier all summer.

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.

 

Top 5 Pro-Tips to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Florida

Top 5 Pro-Tips for Growing Sweet Potatoes in Florida
By Marissa

Sweet potatoes are an amazing vegetable. You get the best of both worlds from them. They not only grow sweet, nutritious tubers under the ground, but also have beautiful foliage (and flowers!) above the ground. They’re also a great choice for our Florida summers.

You can grow them starting in mid-Spring and the vines will flourish during the heat of Summer while growing wonderful treats underground to harvest in the Fall and early Winter. Here’s our Top 5 Pro-Tips for growing Sweet Potatoes here in Florida.

Pro-Tip #1: Work the soil loose down deep, then build a “mound” about 12” high.

Soil prep is best done in advance, so that when the slips are brought to the garden they are ready to pop right into the ground. Work the soil loose down deep so the sweet potato tubers grow long and smooth. I always recommend working Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 into the mound as you work because it helps create a natural, bioavailable nutrient source for hungry plants.

You’ll want to sink the “slip” down far into the mound, but not so far that the bud (the vine stem) is covered by dirt. This is usually about 6”. Poke a hole in the mound, pour a little water into the hole, place the slip, then firm up the soil around it.

Pro-Tip #2: Plant them as soon as you receive them.

It’s important that when you pick them up from the store you plant them as soon as possible. While sweet potato slips are pretty tough little things, they do need to quickly get to growing like they were born to do. You’ll get the best results planting right away, but even if they sit around and become slimy and stinky, they will STILL do fine if you get them in the ground. Delaying planting means it will just take them a little longer to get going.

For some reason sweet potatoes intuitively know the weather. They will grow best when they are set in the ground in the late afternoon on a sunny day that is NOT windy. If it is windy, you’re better off waiting until the next afternoon. Don’t ask me how they know. They just do.

Pro-Tip #3: Keep weeds & grass cleared from the rows/beds until the vines cover the ground.

Young sweet potatoes are using every ounce of energy to put up leaves that will generate more energy through photosynthesis. To keep them as nourished as possible, you’ll need to keep the area free of any other competition that would steal the precious nutrients they need. Ideal spacing is 10-18” between each slip as you plant.

Once the vines are established, they are naturally multipurpose! They act as a natural mulch, shade the ground, and choke out the competition, while harboring moisture the plants need to grow strong and healthy. Many folks find it helpful to mulch the 3’ space between rows/beds to help the leaves in their efforts to keep weeds from encroaching on the grow mounds.

Pro-Tip #4: Don’t overwater or damage the vines

Sweet potatoes don’t require a ton of water. They only need about 1” of water once a week if it hasn’t rained. In fact, they do their best work in soil that isn’t heavy with water. Lots of water can even encourage fungus, which any Florida gardener know is an enormous problem for any garden plants.

Try to avoid disturbing the vines as much as you can. They easily damage (even a strong wind can hurt them!) and that can be an invitation for pests and disease to enter the plant and wreak havoc. The only time to fuss with the vines is to lift the vine “elbows” out of the soil. Those elbows, if left in the soil, will set new plants, which will set new tubers.

This will take nutrients and effort away from the main tubers you are growing back at the original planting hole, making those smaller. They won’t hurt your plant but could affect the tasty harvest you’re hoping to grow!

Pro-Tip #5: Let harvested sweet potatoes dry to thicken their skin

Once you’ve harvested your sweet potatoes they will need to dry in a well-ventilated and shaded area to grow a thick skin. The process takes up to 10 days. This skin is essential for storing your sweet potatoes for any length of time.

Most of us here in Florida don’t have root cellars so we usually store them in a cool dark spot. Remember to keep them away from onions and garlic which can make sweet potatoes rot quickly! I don’t recommend storage in the refrigerator either, because any temperature below 55 degrees Fahrenheit changes the starches and sugars in the potato and degrades a lot of the nutritive value of this very tasty tuber. And after all that hard work, you don’t want to do that.

Those are the top 5 Pro-Tips I have for sweet potato growing. When you buy from us, we give you a guide that is provided to us straight from the grower. You can also find more information I’ve put together from my research on our website here.

For the crafty. there is one more fun thing you can do with sweet potato slips beyond tasty garden treats. Grow a lush beautiful vine from a bottleneck vase (or a glass soda bottle!) as a houseplant. Place a slip in the vase, add some water, and place in a sunny spot. Soon you’ll have a gorgeous decorative vine!

Growing sweet potatoes is an adventure, and we hope that you will dive in and have fun with it!
Thanks for reading,
Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Got Hoppers? Top 5 Most Asked Questions

Got Hoppers? Top 5 Most Asked Questions
By Marissa

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

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

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

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

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

2. Is it harmful to my pets or wildlife?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. How often do you apply it?

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

5. How fast will it get rid of grasshoppers?

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

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

Thanks for your time and expertise, Dax!

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

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

Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

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

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

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

 

Raise Your Own Worms – Vermicomposting

Raise Your Own Worms – Vermicomposting
By Marissa

In the Diggin’ Earthworms article, we learned about worms and what their presence means for your garden and the soil in general. I mentioned that you can raise your own worms to help compost your food and paper waste. Today I’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to build a worm bin, and how to raise your own worms to help compost food and paper waste!!

 

You will need:

  • 2 plastic totes (14-18 gallon). One bin with a tight-fitting lid, and make sure they close stack (similar to the picture, I believe those are Rubbermaid brand)
  • Window screen material
  • Duct tape
  • Distilled Water or Rainwater
  • 1 cup of sand
  • Shredded newspaper or regular paper (no glossy advertising paper or colored ink), in approximately 1” strips, or run through a paper shredder
  • Electric drill with 1/4” bit
  • 2 pounds of worms (or as many as you can find in the garden!)
  • 1-2 pounds of kitchen scraps, cut into small pieces

Construction:

Using the drill and bit, evenly space holes around the outside of one of the bins, about 4” from the top of the bin. Drill another 5 holes in the bottom (in an X pattern).

Line the bottom with screen and tape it down. This keeps the worms from escaping and allows compost tea to drain down and be accessible when you want it.

Place the bin with holes inside the bin without holes, and take a pen and mark the sides of the outer bin through the holes in the inner bin. Drill out the holes in the outer bin so they line up with the holes in the inner bin.  Don’t drill the bottom of the outer bin!

Duct tape screening over the sidewall holes in the inner bin. This will also keep your worms from escaping.

 

Set Up:

Cut the paper into 1” strips. Thoroughly wet the paper so that it is like a wet sponge, but not dripping (you can squeeze excess water out). Fill the inner bin about ⅔ full of paper. This serves as bedding and food for the worms.

Evenly spread the 1 cup of sand, as well as kitchen scraps, over the paper.

Add the worms to the top. Place the lid to close the worm box, and you’re done with setup!

You can increase or decrease the size of your worm bins from what is described. I have seen people use a stack of 5-gallon buckets and it worked well for them (small households, or apartments where outdoor space is at a premium), and I’ve seen enormous bins as well. As long as the worms have their three essentials – food, water, air – they will be just fine.

 

Eligible Scraps to Feed Your Worms

  • Coffee grounds with the paper filter
  • Tea bags (no staple)
  • Shredded paper (black ink newspaper only, no color or glossy ads)
  • Cooked pasta
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps (try to avoid onions and garlic)
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Bread
  • Cardboard
  • Untreated grass and leaf clippings (no pesticides/chemicals)
  • Small amounts of untreated wood chips/shavings/sawdust at a time

Remember that the smaller the pieces of scrap you add, the faster the worms can convert it to castings!

 

Maintaining the Worm Bed

Worms like it best between 60-80 degrees, but they will tolerate colder or warmer weather. They are very independent little workers, all they really need is food, air, and water. Troubleshooting is easy!

  • If their environment gets compacted, you can fluff everything up gently to give them a little more room to move around (unless it’s cold outside, then just leave them be).
  • If the soil is too wet, give them more shredded paper bedding (it will wick up the water). If it’s too dry, give them a little water, or water-laden kitchen scraps like tomatoes and cucumbers.

When it’s time to harvest castings (your bin will be quite full of castings, and you’ll need to make room for more!), you’ll need to feed the worms on one side of the bed only, and move all visible food to that side as well. Give the worms a couple of days to travel to that one side. Then, scoop out the castings on the other side. Try to remove as many worms as you can to put back in the bin, but don’t worry if you don’t get them all. Redistribute the remaining castings evenly in the bin so the surface is flat again. Spread the castings you collected into your garden and scratch them in around the roots of plants and such. Lightly water them in, or if you know rain is coming, just wait. Your plants will love it!

The Bottom Bin – The Compost Tea Collector

There’s this magical stuff called “compost tea” that comes as a byproduct of vermiculture. It is a nutrient-rich liquid that filters down through the compost, and contains the more liquid parts of your worm’s castings. After some time has passed with your worms hard at work, you can lift the worm bed out of the bottom container and you should see some brown/black liquid in the bottom of the outer container. I recommend using compost tea for plant pick-me ups, as the nutrients in the tea are very bio-available to the plants. Take the liquid from your bin and make a half and half mix with water. Use it to water plants as needed for extra nutrition, taking the place of watering that day. They will thank you! Check your compost tea bin every 3-4 weeks, sooner if you have been using the worm composter very heavily (like a pound or more of scraps every single day). You can use compost tea not only in your garden, but in houseplants, landscaping, and for trees.

Final Tips

If you have a smaller bin and it is going to freeze, try to move it inside if possible, or insulate it. Worms can survive cold weather, but if the soil freezes they aren’t going to do so well. Small containers are more likely to freeze than large ones simply due to volume versus their container’s exposure to surface air. If there is enough decay in the system, it will be less likely to freeze because of the heat generated from rotting. But just to be safe, think of your worms in a freeze.

If you just have a single worm bin, you can still make compost tea. A couple of days before you want the tea, put new food on one side of the bin, and push any food from previous feedings to the same side as you put the new food. Worms will travel to the new smell over a couple of days, leaving one side with less worms. From that “vacated” side, take a volleyball-sized amount of the castings, or as much as you have there, and try to remove as many worms and/or worm eggs as you can find. Wrap it in cheesecloth and tie a handle of some kind on it (like a rope). Place the casting ball into a 5 gallon bucket and fill the bucket. Let it sit overnight. The next day, take the castings out, and spread in your garden, lawn or landscape. Use the compost tea in a sprayer for soil and foliar feeding of your plants/shrubs/trees, or just use it to water from the bucket.

I hope you’ll try your hand at Vermiculture and Vermicomposting! It’s really fun, and a great way to keep trash out of the landfills while getting an organic source of nutrients for your beloved plants. And, you get a few more “kids” to take care of.   There are lots more bin designs and configurations out there, so feel free to just use this as a basic guide and experiment with other types of bins too! Enjoy! – 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.

 

Diggin’ Earthworms

Diggin’ Earthworms
By Marissa

It’s raining, and you step out onto the porch to look at the garden getting a drink from the sky. In the dirt you find little worms popping up out of the soil! And there’s tons of them!

This is a VERY good sign. These wigglers take very good care of your soil. Their poop, usually called “castings” is super beneficial for soil. Plants LOVE the bioavailability and the microbiome that worms create, just by doing their thing.

People have lots of questions about these strange guests in their gardens. Here’s some common questions about earthworms, answered.

What can worms teach us?

Through worms we learn about composting, and biology. We can learn lots about recycling food waste and paper that would end up in the landfill into food for the garden. We are also given the opportunity to learn about the relationship between creatures and our soil, how they work together to grow beautiful plants, and why all of these things are so important. Raising worms is a great way to build a relationship between your family and the Earth. Let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?

.

Why are earthworms slimy?

Earthworms depend on moisture to move through the soil and protect their skin. They secrete a wet, slimy substance to help them lubricate their skin so they can slip through the dirt while they are munching

If earthworms are good for my soil, how do I attract them to my garden?

Earthworms love to eat. They eat any available organic matter in the soil. Anything from leaves, grass clippings, paper, or old produce is on the proverbial table. I find in general that soil that is mulched regularly with bark, pine needles, hay, straw, leaves, clippings, or compost tends to have a lot of earthworms. 

 

The key to attracting them and then keeping them, is giving them something to eat and soil they can navigate to get to the goods. Earthworms don’t eat live plants, so you don’t have to worry about them munching on roots and stems of your prized garden plants. They much prefer to accelerate the decomposition process of things that are dead.

Worms don’t like really wet, compacted soil. If this sounds like your soil, you might have to consider mulching and mixing up your garden to entice more helpful worms.

Do earthworms lay eggs?

Yes they do! And here’s a bunch we found in our garden one day while pulling weeds. (see image, on the left).

Earthworms are simultaneous hermaphrodites. That means they have active sex organs for both male and female at the same time. When two earthworms mate, each earthworm is able to lay eggs, and each set of eggs get fertilized. Each egg hatches about five ½”-1” worms. If the conditions are not right for hatching, the eggs can sit dormant until the conditions are right again. How cool is that?

Can’t I make two earthworms by cutting one in half?

Contrary to popular belief, cutting an earthworm in half will not make two worms. Although an earthworm can regenerate a tail, the severed tail will die. It’s kind of like a lizard’s tail in that way. 

 

Do worm castings need to be composted before I use them in the garden?

The castings come out of the worm ready for use in the garden! Castings are “ABC” – Already Been Chewed – and now the nutrients they contain are in a form that your plants can absorb directly from the castings!

Can I raise my own?

Of course. The practice of raising worms is called vermiculture, and using worms to eat your kitchen scraps, chemical-free lawn waste, and paper scraps is called vermicomposting.

Worms are raised either a single large bin (or bed in the ground), or a series of bins, buckets or boxes if you’re really fancy. It doesn’t have to be an intense operation – my dad raised worms for the castings and for fishing for many years, and he used an old broken refrigerator with some air holes in the sides, and the door served as the lid! That was some Florida back-country ingenuity!

Vermiculture is also an amazing teaching tool for kids!

We hope you learned a little about earthworms and how they help your garden! As always, if you have questions we’re here to help. Thanks! Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Oh My, Where Are Her Feathers? The Molting Hen

Oh My, Where Are Her Feathers? The Molting Hen
By Marissa

It’s Fall, and daylight hours are getting shorter and shorter. One morning you have your coffee, and walk outside to collect eggs like you always do… and one of your hens is naked.

Big patches of feathers are missing, and clumps of them are scattered about. She’s not bleeding, and doesn’t seem stressed, she’s just letting it all air out like nothing’s different. Not only is she looking a bit disheveled, she also didn’t lay any eggs. A couple of days later, another couple of hens are missing feathers, and only 1 egg from all of them combined.

It’s ok! We promise, it’s nothing you did! You’re not a bad chicken parent!

What’s Up with the Naked Chickens?

The temporary loss of feathers is called molting. Don’t panic! It’s very normal, especially in the Fall. For chickens, the molt is a time when their bodies shift from making eggs to making new feathers, which are really important for the coming cold weather to keep them dry and warm.

When the molt is completed, chickens have begun a new ‘egg cycle’. Their reproductive systems get a chance to rejuvenate while their feathers get some new life too.

The first drastic molt usually happens at about 18 months from hatching (give or take) and then annually after that. The initial transitions from baby ‘fluff’ to feathers are also technically molting cycles, but they do not have the drastic ‘naked’ appearance.

What Causes Molting?

Molting is usually triggered by changes in daylight. If you have a hen raising baby chicks, they will usually start the molt after they finish raising the chickens. Raising children can make you all kinds of worn out, and the hen will need new clothes and a vacation after all that work!

#ProTip: You can artificially extend your chicken’s day by having lights in their coop on timers to mimic a long summer day. Don’t leave the light on all the time though! Eventually they will need to molt.

During this feather-replacement time, they usually don’t lay any, or very few, eggs. It takes protein to make an egg, and all their dietary protein is being used to make feathers when they are molting. Your chickens might all molt around the same time, decreasing your egg production for a little while. But it’s ok! When they grow their feathers back, they will be renewed and the egg production will start up again.

How Can I Help My Chickens?

Even though you didn’t have anything to do with the fact that your chickens are molting, you can indeed help them through the process so their molting ends faster and they can get back to the good stuff – laying eggs.

Here’s a few things you can do:

1. Switch to a high-protein feed. We recommend Purina Flock Raiser during their molt to help them get the protein needed to make beautiful new feathers quickly. This feed is meant for meat birds, so it has more protein than the food for laying hens. This can only be done for a short period of time – during the molt and a few days after. Constant high-protein diets can cause health problems for your eggers, so don’t do it!

2. Add a little more protein treats to their routine every few days, but only by about 5 percent, or 2 Tablespoons per chicken. Mealworms are a great protein supplement that chickens LOVE, as well as options like black-oil sunflower seeds and tuna fish (in water, low sodium). Overall, treats of any kind should never be more than 10% of their diet.
 1.

SIDE NOTE: Some places say you can feed them cat food while molting, but I don’t recommend it. It can cause unpleasant and even dangerous deficiencies in your chickens. 


3. Keep plenty of clean water available. Growing feathers is thirsty work!

4. Vitamin and mineral supplements are very helpful, as are probiotics.

5. Don’t change anything drastically in their environment, such as moving them, or introducing new birds to the flock. It can wait. They don’t need the extra stress.

6. Don’t handle a molting bird unless absolutely necessary. The emerging feathers are very sensitive, quite painful, and can break, causing a lot of bleeding. In the case of a breakage, clean them up with Vetericyn to prevent infection and separate the bird from the flock for their own safety until they are healed.

#DidYouKnow #DYK #FunFact: Chickens that get through the molt the fastest are almost always your best egg layers!

Molting is a natural process of feather replacement, and a chance for the chicken’s reproductive organs to rest. Most of the time you get bigger, better eggs after a molt is complete, and your chickens will look fabulous in their new clothes! Take good care of them and they will take good care of you.

Thanks for reading!

Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

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

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

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

 

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