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:

Need to Transplant? What To Do

Relocating your plant to a new home can be a little stressful to your plant. It’s suddenly got a new home, with new light, a new container, and room to grow. If you were a plant, what would you do first? Grow more leaves? Grow more roots? Just sit for awhile and ponder the meaning of this new life?

I know, I’m being silly, but in honor of our Fall Starter Plants arriving this week, I wanted to do a quick reference article to give you some Transplanting Tips for our starter plants.

Starter Plants at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Tampa, FL

All around the internet you’ll find gardener’s best transplanting tips, and a LOT of them are very different. That’s ok! The beautiful part about gardening is that we all have different experiences…we live with different soils…we have different plants. My best suggestion? Read as much as you can and figure out the best way for yourself. These are my tips that work for me.

Please note: This article is mostly referring to small vegetable and annual plants. Trees and shrubs have a different planting process, so make sure you know what to do with those!

Transplanting Tip #1 – Amend Your Soil First

Before you put your plant where you want it to be, prepare the area first. Whether your plant’s new home is a bigger container, in a raised bed, a square foot garden, a hay bale, or in the ground for a landscape, soil matters.

Soil that’s rich in organic matter – did you know you can make your own by Composting? Take our Composting 101 class November 2, 2019 to learn more!

If you’re using fluffy potting soil in a container, you’ll need to add a bit more water at first. If you don’t, you’ll find that when you water your container for the first time, the soil will sink down. Now what looked like a full container will only be half to two-thirds full, and when you refill it you’ll bury your starter plant. That’s not good.

For in-ground and raised bed gardens, weed the area, pull back any mulching to expose the soil. Mix a palm-full of fertilizer (I like Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 – specially formulated for Florida Soil) into the top 6-10″ of soil with a trowel to aerate and loosen the soil. You want the bottom of the hole to be loose, un-compacted soil for several inches below where your plant’s root ball will be.

The little bit of fertilizer will help your plant through its initial period of adjustment, sometimes called “transplant shock”. Don’t use a lot, just mix in a small pile on your palm in about a 6″ x 6″ area.

Healthy, crumbly soil. Did you know our local Extension Offices can test your soil to help you determine what it needs? It’s a great place to start.

If the soil is really dry, add a little water to help the soil reach a “crumbly” consistency, not muddy. This will help you with Step 2.

Transplanting Tip #2 – Make a Hole That’s Juuuuust Right

Goldilocks wasn’t a plant, but she had the right idea – she wanted everything “just so.” Plants do too, which is why we fuss over them, right?

I usually guesstimate the size of the root ball by the size of the container the plant is in. Using that approximation, I use 2-3 fingers on each hand to reach into the loosened, crumbly dirt. I then pull back the dirt into a hole that’s approximately the same width and depth as the root ball.

Don’t worry if the hole is not THAT perfect. I mean wow…

If you have a spare container laying around that’s the same size as the one for the plant you’re planting, you can use it to check your depth, but it’s not truly necessary.

The point of making the hole in this way is to keep you from burying the root ball too deep. You also don’t want to leave air pockets. Soil needs to touch roots to do its job.

Transplanting Tip #3 – Check Your Roots

OK, now it’s showtime. Grasp your plant loosely at the base of the stem with one hand, and the container with the other.

Lightly squeeze the soil inside the container, then lift the stem. If your container is flexible enough, you can also push the root ball up from the bottom.

Now look at your plant’s roots. Are there lots of visible roots that are thick and matted? Or is it mostly dirt showing there? Here’s an example of a root-bound plant versus a normal starter.

That’s pretty exaggerated on the right…our starter plants at Shell’s arrive at the perfect time to plant, so root bound issues are rare.

If your plant is severely root bound, you’ll need to squeeze and pull the roots gently apart to get them a little untangled. It’s a starter plant, so you don’t have to go crazy with this step, but they need a little separation so that they can find their new path into the soil’s ecosystem. Sometimes a couple of small slices with a pointed trowel will do the trick.

Transplanting Tip #4 – Place Your Plant In Its New Home

Alright, you’ve arrived ahead of time and put all your plant’s favorite things in its new home. You opened the door. Now it’s time to welcome your plant home!

Place the root ball gently into the hole you made. Your starter plant’s soil from its original growing container should just about line up with the soil of the plant’s new home.

The top of the starter plant’s soil is about level with the soil of its new home. Great job!

Gently but firmly press the root ball and the new home’s soil together to get them acquainted. You want to make sure the big air pockets are eliminated and that your soil won’t sink too far when you perform the next step.

Don’t press so hard that you break the connection between the stem and the roots! I’ve done it. That’s why I wanted to mention it.

Transplanting Tip #5 – Water It In

Whether you’re planting one plant into a new container, or an entire bed or row of them, the last step is to water them in.

Watering helps eliminate the remaining air pockets from the transplanting process and helps the roots shift into a position to grow in a downward direction like you want them to.

You don’t need to water a lot at first. Do the initial watering of the soil, avoiding the stem and leaves if possible, until the soil is wet but no puddles remain. Give them a day to get adjusted to their new environment.

The next day you can add them to your normal watering routine. I will say that most starter plants will need to be watered a bit more until they get established. The soil doesn’t have to be drowning, but it shouldn’t completely dry out either (unless you’re dealing with succulents or cacti – that’s a whole new ball game right there).

I hope my transplanting tips are helpful to you as you plant your garden this season! What are your favorite tips and tricks for transplanting new plants into your garden? Tell me in the comments below.

Let’s get growing!

Sincerely,

Marissa

14 Garden Edibles that Beat the Florida Summer Heat

I’ve been asking around, and found Summer Garden Veggies that will survive the heat – some I know you’ve heard of, and some that you maybe haven’t.

So lets expand our Summer food fare and try some new things, shall we? Here they are, in alphabetical order!

Cow Peas (aka Black-Eyed Peas)

Southern Cow Pea pod with peas.

Also called Field Peas, Zipper Peas, and a few other names, the many varieties of Cow Peas attest to their value as a crop. They are delicious and high in fiber, like most peas and beans.

Planted in June here in Florida, during the summer months they tolerate the heat (as long as they’re watered! Hunters have used them for a long time to plant their deer grazing plots, as deer LOVE them, and they are inexpensive seeds (we offer them in bulk packaging). They are also used as a cover crop to keep fields from going fallow. Cow Peas are nitrogen-fixers, which means that they naturally put nitrogen, one of the main ingredients in fertilizers, back into the soil, just by being themselves.

And when you get ready to plant in the Fall, just pick all the pods off, and till these babies under about 2 weeks in advance of your Fall planting to add even more nitrogen (and other organic matter) into your soil. Your garden will thank you.

Everglades Tomatoes

Florida Everglades Tomato – not a native – but Naturalized!

These are small, currant-sized, flavorful tomatoes that have been naturalized to the Florida climate. You can find these growing wild in some areas, especially swampy sites. But I’ve also seen them growing out of sidewalks, so their hardiness seems to know no bounds.

The further South you are, the more likelihood that you’ll have fruit all year round. They will continually produce under the right conditions, and they will take the HEAT. Also, they re-seed themselves very readily, so if your initial plant stops producing, most likely one of the tomatoes has fallen off somewhere and you’ll have another plant very soon in some random spot. Just ask the Seminole Heights Community Garden here in Tampa, they have Everglades Tomato seedlings pop up everywhere.

Yes, they are small, but they are MIGHTY. Like other tomatoes, they are high in nutrients such as lycopene, Vitamins, alpha- and beta-carotenes, and many trace minerals too.

Jerusalem Artichoke

The flowers and tubers of the Jerusalem Artichoke, or Sunchoke.

The Jerusalem Artichoke is a tuber-producing plant with bright yellow flowers. It’s almost like a potato plant mixed with a sunflower. That’s probably why they’re called “Sunchokes” in some places. Also called the Earth Apple, or Sunroot, it is, in fact, in the Sunflower family (Helianthus), not related to the artichoke, and is native to Central America, but grows wild all over the US as well.

It’s super easy to grow! You can buy the tubers from the grocery and plant those. It can make a nice tall flower row in your veggie garden, or get a special hybrid dwarf variety for ornamental flower beds.

The tuber can be used like a potato. It contains inulin, which is a carbohydrate that directly feeds your gut flora, and it is LOW in calories. You can easily make chips, hashbrowns, mashed sunchokes, vegetable soup, and more using the tuber. You can eat it raw or cooked, and the plants are really pretty when they flower! They are usually planted in early summer and can be harvested in Winter.

As a side note, several sources have advised that this veggie causes a bit of gaseous discomfort, so just keep that in mind and don’t make it the main course!

Jicama

Jicama is a wonderful way to get fiber and Vitamin C!

Jicama, pronounced “hee-kuh-muh” (actually there are multiple ways to pronounce it!), is a wonderful tuber native to Mexico. It’s sometimes called a Mexican Potato, Mexican Turnip, or Yam Bean. It’s not related to the yam. It is very rich in fiber, Vitamin C, and only 25 calories per half cup. It is used traditionally as a condiment, marinated in lime juice and chili powder and added to dishes for extra crunch and flavor.

But you can also cook with it! You can make potato dishes like fries or hashbrowns, put it in salad raw for crunch kind of like a water chestnut. I’ve used it in stir fry (I know, totally crossing cultures there!) in place of bamboo shoots because I didn’t have any and I loved it!

Jicama is the taproot of the legume plant it comes from, and is the only edible part of the plant. The leaves, seed pods, and flowers are all toxic and should not be eaten. It takes about 5-9 months to be ready for harvest, so if you plant in June, it will probably be ready by December or January.

Katuk

Katuk, growing commercially in this picture.

Ah, here’s one you might not have heard of. Katuk, nicknamed the Sweetleaf bush (not *that* kind of “sweetleaf” ya’ll) is an Asian-native edible shrub that grows in the tropical rainforests of Cambodia, Vietnam, and other Asian rainforest climates. I’ve also seen them called “Star Gooseberry” plants, but less often.

It prefers moist shaded areas, but will tolerate full sun if it’s kept wet, and in either condition it loves hot and humid weather. One of the most amazing things about Katuk is that nearly the entire shrub is edible! Leaves, flowers, seeds, and tender shoots or the last 4-5 inches of the stems are all edible. The tender stems are like Asparagus. You can eat any of these parts of the plant raw or cooked.

One of the most remarkable things about Katuk is that nutritionally it’s about 50% protein – the older leaves holding the most nutrition. It is a very common dish in Asian cultures because of this. Isn’t nature AMAZING?

Malabar Spinach

Beautiful Malabar Spinach

Malabar Spinach is a heat-tolerant vine native to Asia. Not related at all to traditional spinach, it has beautiful broad green heart-shaped leaves and a bright red to crimson stem (there is another variety that has a green stem), and grows up a trellis, mailbox, or flagpole quite nicely (up to 33 feet!)! It will take the heat and full sun with it’s semi-succulent leaves.

Ever had a Philipino dish called Utan? That’s Malabar Spinach cooked in sardines, garlic, onion, and parsley over rice. Yum!

Malabar Spinach is one of the only spinach-like plants that will thrive in the summer, and there are several other benefits to using this spinach in place of the cool-season varieties. First, the leaves are not “slimy” when cooked like traditional spinach. Next, the leaves are quite mild in flavor, not bitter or “peppery”, and so can be eaten raw or cooked, and are often a preferred way to get kids to eat their greens. Finally, it’s a great source of Vitamin A, C, Iron, and Calcium, and is high in protein per calorie.

These should be started from seed in the Spring, or you can start with rooted cuttings in June, and it will grow all summer long. If there’s no freeze, or if you can bring it inside on frosty nights, it will survive the Winter and keep on growing for you year-round. I’ve seen them come back after a mild freeze too! Many people I’ve talked to like Malabar more than Okinawa Spinach, another warm-season spinach “replacement”.

Moringa

Moringa – the Miracle Tree

Moringa is called the Tree of Life, or the Miracle Tree, for many reasons. The leaves, bark, roots, flowers, and seeds are edible, and provide a LOT of nutrition. They are also used to make medicine in their native areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. According to several sources, the Moringa leaves and seeds have large amounts of Potassium, Vitamin C, Calcium, Protein, Vitamin A, Fiber, and Iron.

According to WebMD:

“Moringa is used for anemia, arthritis and other joint pain (rheumatism), asthma, cancer, constipation, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, stomach pain, stomach and intestinal ulcers, intestinal spasms, headache, heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney stones, fluid retention, thyroid disorders, and bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections. Moringa is also used to reduce swelling, increase sex drive (as an aphrodisiac), prevent pregnancy, boost the immune system, and increase breast milk production. Some people use it as a nutritional supplement or tonic. Moringa is sometimes applied directly to the skin as a germ-killer or drying agent (astringent). It is also used topically for treating pockets of infection (abscesses), athlete’s foot, dandruff, gum disease (gingivitis), snakebites, warts, and wounds. Oil from moringa seeds is used in foods, perfume, and hair care products, and as a machine lubricant. Moringa is an important food source in some parts of the world. Because it can be grown cheaply and easily, and the leaves retain lots of vitamins and minerals when dried, moringa is used in India and Africa in feeding programs to fight malnutrition. The immature green pods (drumsticks) are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach, and they are also dried and powdered for use as a condiment. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction is used as a fertilizer and also to purify well water and to remove salt from seawater.”

Wow!!! It’s easy to grow, takes the heat, and is good for you. What are you waiting for?

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums growing along a bed border – beautiful!

A beautiful, heat-loving flower, the Nasturtium is a common garden flower that comes in a variety of colors like yellows, oranges, and reds. They have a beautiful mounding habit with large round green or variegated leaves that provide the perfect backdrop to show off their flowers.

They have a wonderful fragrance and work well as a cut flower. The best part is, they’re edible! The leaves and flowers have a peppery taste that go well in a salad (in place of arugula which went to seed at the beginning to middle of Spring for most people in Florida.

Further, they are packed with nutrition and medicinal properties. Vitamin C, Manganese, Iron, Flavinoids, and Beta Carotene are all packed into this lovely package. Nasturtiums have been used to treat colds, bacterial and fungal infections, coughs, and even hair loss.

Okra

Okra stands tall against the heat – it takes all the sun and LOVES IT.

We talked about okra previously as being a superstar in the Summer garden in my article about Summer gardening from about a month ago. The flowers of okra are pale yellow with a red center on most varieties, really quite spectacular.

Once they start to flower, you really have to stay on top of the harvest, because if the pods grow too long they get fibrous and tough, and won’t taste good at all. If that happens, you can let them dry and harvest the seeds for next year’s crop.

Okra is used in a lot of Southern food, like cajun gumbos and creole stews, where it’s slick, moist nature really adds thickness to the dishes. You can also bake or fry sliced okra rings with corn meal, spices and salt for a wonderful side dish.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better food producer that’s this easy to grow.

Peanuts

Peanuts are a flowering legume that grow their edible parts underground!

Take me out to the ballgame…or the garden, actually, because you can grow your own Peanuts! Peanuts are a legume, like a bean, and they have an interesting way of growing.

Each of the pretty yellow to orange flowers of an edible peanut, not to be confused with the landscaping “flowering peanut”, makes a peanut. Once fertilized by pollination (usually bees or native wasps), the flower transforms into a “peg” on a stem that droops over to touch the ground. That peg then grows roots and nodules that become peanuts underground. How cool is that?

Peanuts are also nitrogen fixers. They take the heat, and add nitrogen back into the soil, so of course they make a great summer cover crop for Florida gardens. Once you harvest the peanuts by uprooting, put the plants and remaining roots back onto the soil and till it under, they’ll decompose and be a great source of organic nutrients for your Fall garden if done a couple of weeks before planting. Awesome!

Peppers

Beautiful Bolivian Rainbow Peppers are edible and ornamental!

You already know about peppers, but did you know that they do well in the heat? Many people have peppers that keep producing all year long!

Even if you don’t eat the hot peppers, they can ripen in so many different beautiful colors, it’s worth keeping them around. Maybe even give them to your hot-sauce loving neighbors. There are also ornamental peppers that have beautiful long-lasting colored fruits, just for decoration.

Full sun, and keep them watered! That’s pretty much all you need to know. If they wilt in the afternoon no matter what you do, maybe give them some afternoon shade to help them cope with our over 100 degree days. I will say that peppers native to tropical climates, like many of the hot peppers, do better in the heat than ones that have been bred for more temperate climates (like many bell peppers).

Purslane

Purslane grows wild in Florida – do you see it in your yard?

Purslane is a small, flowering succulent that grows wild in much of the US and other continents. Also called Wild Portulaca, it is very hardy, and many people for years have considered it an aggressive weed. But you can EAT IT – so why not control it by munching on it?

Purslane takes crunchy with a bit of a lemon tang. It’s been likened to watercress or even spinach, and can be a replacement for either. You can use it to thicken soups and stews because if its high levels of pectin. This also makes it good to partially substitute out oil in a pesto – you can use less oil when you add purslane.

Nutritionally, Purslane is high in Omega-3 fatty acid Alpha Linolenic Acid, or ALA, surprisingly enough, so it’s great for veggie lovers to get that extra boost of fatty acid. It also contains high amounts of Vitamin E, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium, and phosphorus.

Purslane also been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years in traditional medicines around the world to ensure healthy growth and development of children, for weight loss, to improve heart health, and to treat certain gastrointestinal diseases. It also has anti-cancer potential, protects the skin, boosts vision, strengthens the immune system, builds strong bones, and increases circulation. Strong anti-oxidant properties seem to be a prevalent factor in its medicinal use.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato vines have sweet little purple flowers – bees love them!

Sweet potatoes are a sweet treat that take the heat. You plant between April and early June for late Fall harvest, just in time for big holiday meals. We already have a Sweet Potato growing guide here on our site, and I gave some extra tips here in the blog in an article I wrote last year, so check that out if you’re wanting to know some tips and tricks for growing a great crop of sweet potatoes.

While they grow tubers underground to satisfy our holiday sweet tooth (with some brown sugar and butter), the young leaves can also be eaten in salads – they’re delicious!

As you may know, sweet potatoes are great for nutrition. With hefty amounts of beta carotene, they will raise the blood levels of Vitamin A quickly, especially in children, making that more available for growth and development. It’s also rich in Fiber, and this makes it very filling. Other nutrients present in significant amounts include Vitamin C, Potassium, Manganese, Vitamin B6 & B5, and Vitamin E. That’s even sweeter!

Yard-Long Beans

Holy moly, those are some LONG beans! And they’re tasty, too!

Wow, Yard Long beans, also called Asparagus beans, live up to their name! These are super-long beans that you can snap and eat like green beans, and they are a wonderful addition to your summer heat-tolerant garden.

I suggest you grow them on a trellis, as this will allow you to get the longest beans! If you can grow them on an arched trellis, point the beans downward in the “tunnel” and you’ll have an easier harvest…and a conversation piece too!

They are similar in texture to regular green beans, you’ll just need to chop them shorter to cook them (many won’t fit in your pan if left long!). You can also roast them like asparagus, thus their alternate name, though they are not a fibrous as asparagus. If you have eaten wild asparagus that grows along the fence lines of Montana pastureland, it is more like that – not chewy or woody at all, just a sweet young asparagus flavor, without the funny smelling side effect (you know what I’m talking about, right?).

OK, I’ll give you one more Florida Summer Garden plant as a bonus. It’s an herb and it has many relatives. I think that it’s relevant for Summer because it’s refreshing on a hot summer day.

Mint

Mint should probably be kept in pots – it will take over the yard! I think that’s ok, but…

There are so many kinds of mint, I can’t even begin to list them all. Remember in Forest Gump where Bubba (aka Buford Blue) talks about all the kinds of shrimp he wants to make? You can do that with Mint species. Some of the species in the Mint family are Peppermint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, Horsemint, and Catnip.

You can grow nearly any of them through the summer. I usually give mine some afternoon shade if I can, just to help them out. If you keep them watered, they’ll keep going! They are aggressive, but I think that’s a good thing. A friend of mine replaced her grass with Mint, which vined out and went everywhere. Every time she mowed the front yard the whole block smelled like fresh mint. That’s not a bad thing, is it? If you don’t want it to spread, keep it in a pot, and keep trailing ends from touching the ground, or it will root and take off.

Some would argue the best use of mint in Tampa is for Mojitos. Anyone else agree?

Alright, thanks for reading – I hope this helps you find some great growing options for your Florida Summer Garden!

See you next time,

Marissa

A Northern Gardener’s Guide to Florida Gardening

A common concept in gardening is “right plant, right place, right time.” All gardeners know that certain plants have certain seasons where they will thrive and produce their fruits or flowers or sought-after foliage. And if you don’t, well, now you do.

Know where it should go before you plant…and if it’s the right time to plant it!

As a gardening supply store, the number one problem we see gardeners have in Florida is not planting the right plants at the right time of year. That usually results in crop failure, and frustrated gardeners. These are people who were able to grow lush, wonderful gardens where they came from, and have nothing now but brown, chewed up lumps of leafy fungus-rotted stems down here.

And believe me…we know your frustration. I was born and raised here. We do, and have done, crazy work to keep pests and disease away from our prized plants. And we still sometimes end up with a brown shriveled up mess. As it says in my bio, the late great J.C. Raulston of the NC State Arboretum said often, “if you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener.” I just remember that when I have the heartache of a dead plant and learn as much as I can from the experience.

Summer Heat Damage can look like this on a tomato.

So, here’s my best general advice for those of you who are “transplanted” from other places in our giant country…and anyone in Florida just getting into gardening too.

Tip #1 – Know where you are, and the conditions of YOUR growing space.

Know your USDA Agricultural Zone, and make sure what you’re planting will grow in that zone. Have a question about this? Check out my garden planning article from earlier this year, tip #2.

USDA Zone Maps were updated in 2012 – make sure you have the latest!

The thing about gardening in Florida, as compared to gardening North of here, is that the growing seasons are SO different. We also have 4 growing seasons (unless the heat is not for you, then we have 3).

Up north, you have actual seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.

We have Hot, Scalding Hot, Under-The-Broiler Hot, and Slightly Less Hot.

And the national-chain store advertising that happens in Florida doesn’t help gardeners understand our growing seasons at all, because is still tuned in to more northern climate growing schedules…so by the time their “Spring” advertising hits TV, Radio, and the internet…well…Florida’s Spring season is already nearly over and we’re moving into the heat of Summer.

I mean, sure, there’s still stuff you can plant right now (see my last article for some guidance on that), but it’s not the same stuff you would plant right now in, say, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan or Canada. And that’s how people waste a LOT of money, and time. Plants that don’t grow well right now in our climate are still available to buy in the big box stores. Sure, they’ve got a “guarantee”, but honestly, wouldn’t you rather just succeed out of the gate than trying to pulling a dead plant out of the ground to take back for a refund when it gets fried from a 104-degree day?

Here’s a final point on this first tip – and it’s a real mind-melter. Ready? OK, here goes:

The best time to plant seeds for Spring in Central Florida is in January and seedlings can go in the ground in early February. OK, you can say that’s my opinion for the Tampa area…but so be it. Yeah, there’s a chance of frost, but that’s what our N-Sulate frost-cloth is for. We can even garden in the Winter here…plant in November, harvest in January/February. Mind blown yet? It’s a pretty sweet deal if you like to eat.

Look at all that stuff you can plant in Central Florida in January! AMAZING!

Tip #2: Lean on Local Gardeners for Advice

It pays to ask local gardening folks about local gardening practices before you spend a bunch of money on stuff that doesn’t work where you are. The internet is great for researching, and social media gardening groups are decent places to get “what would you do” type advice (taken with a grain of salt of course). Even our own local extension offices (in our case, UF/IFAS) have some information published that makes me scratch my head in wonder, because what they’re saying doesn’t apply to or work in my area at all.

Local law changes in Florida make front-yard gardens allowable in many places now! YES!

If your neighbor has a gorgeous landscape, talk with them about it. If another neighbor brings you heaps of greens or zucchini or tomatoes (guilty!), ask them how they get such great yields. Ask to see their gardens, or to let you know when they do something to their garden so you can do it to yours too. If they really like you, they’ll pass down their family gardening secrets…the treasured “old ways” that I love finding out about so much (like the ones that my daddy passed to me, before I lost him).

Of course, if you’re having a specific pest or disease issue, you can come ask us here at the store. We’re here to help you get the most out of your garden.

Tip #3: It’s ALL in the PREPARATION

The Scouts code says “BE PREPARED” for good reason.

If you’re prepared, you’ll have more success – a little work now leads to a lot less later!

Garden success is predicated on the prep work you did in the weeks and months BEFORE you planted the seeds. Summertime is a great time to do a lot of prep work for the coming prolific Fall Gardening season. Want a quick read on things you can do in the Summer to prep for Fall Planting? Try this article and see what you think.

Another thing that you can play with is using nitrogen-fixer summer crops like Peanuts (not the ornamentals, the actual ones that you eat), and Cow peas/Black-eyed Peas, to plant in your garden beds over the summer. You can harvest the crops, and then till the plants under a couple of weeks before planting for Fall. Their roots/stems/leaves make a wonderful soil-builder, and of course the peas and peanuts are tasty to eat. I plan on trying cowpeas in my raised beds this summer (it’s on the list!). I’ll let you know how it goes, I plan to plant next week!

If you’re going to let your garden ground go fallow over the summer (“fallow” = not planting in it), instead of letting random weeds take over, I would suggest an easy cover grain like sorghum or Sunn hemp or buckwheat, or toss a bunch of marigold seeds out there and let them grow wild. Marigolds make great natural insecticide, battling root knot nematodes and other soil-borne pests – so having a bunch of those growing in your beds all year round is never a bad thing. When they die (they are annuals, they can die off easily), till their remains into the soil so they can continue to work for you!

Cowpeas in the summer garden – tasty peas AND added nitrogen to the soil.

Well, there’s my gardening $0.02 for transplants to our beautiful Sunshine State. I hope you, and maybe even new gardeners, found this useful!

What are your Summer garden tricks? Let me know in the comments below. Happy HOT gardening!!

Sincerely,

Marissa

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

Best Pro Tips for a Bountiful Harvest

Best Pro Tips for a Bountiful Harvest
By Marissa

You dreamed. You planned.

You tilled soil. You amended.

You planted. You watered.

You Sweated.  You Fretted.

You pulled weeds…the endless weeds.

Now you wait for your plants – your babies – to grow up and ultimately tell you if you did a good job raising them (children grow up so fast, don’t they?) at harvest time.

Is there more you can do to help them produce more, and be the best plants they can be?  Of course!

Here’s just a few Pro Tips for you to make your vegetable harvests more bountiful, and beautiful.  Enjoy!

 

Pro-Tip #2 – Strategic Fertilizing Plan

About a month ago I wrote an article for you, Top 10 Fertilizing Tips, that has some good information on when to give your plants a good boost of nutrients.  During the time when plants are turning flowers into fruits, they are using the most energy, and thus need more fuel to power these fruit miracles.  Fertilizer is like a vitamin drink to an athlete – giving vital nutrients that are needed to create the end product.  There are many different kinds of fertilizer out there – there’s (arguably) no wrong answer to the question of what to use, as long as you’re following the recommended application directions (or in the case of organics like compost, compost tea, and the like, applying a few times a week and watering in).

Pro-Tip #4 – No Place for Suckers

You’re probably thinking…suckers? Is she just trying to be clever or “hip”?  Well, maybe.  But suckers are extra branches off the main stem that don’t serve much of a purpose except extra photosynthesis.  You might think that more photosynthesis is good, right?

Sure, in some cases.  But when your plants reach the flowering and fruiting stage, like the plant shown to the right here, it’s got plenty of energy creation potential with the leaves that it already has.  If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to produce the flowers and fruit.

The reason these are called “suckers” is because they “suck” energy from fruit production, making the plant focus on new branches AND fruiting.  It’s too much.  You’ll get more flowers and fruit when you prune these away.

But don’t worry, the trimmings don’t have to go to waste.  You can create new plants by rooting these trimmings! You’ll get the same exact species of plant, and a second helping of tomatoes a little later on!

 

Pro-Tip #1 – Pollination

Pollination of your plants’ flowers is the key to making fruit (which contains the seeds).  We mostly rely on local insect pollinator populations to do that work for us, however, in many cases you can help too.

In squash, for example, there are clearly defined male and female flowers.  The female flowers are attached to what look like baby zucchini or whatever type you’re growing, sometimes called the “budding fruit” – it’s actually an ovum.  The male flowers look like just a regular flower on a stem, with an anther holding a lot of yellow pollen grains.  Pollination happens when pollen from the male stamen is physically taken from the male and lands on the female flower’s pistil structure. 

Since in the case of squash these flowers are in different locations, maybe even on different plants, the female is really lucky to get pollinated at all!  It’s the miracle of life, we’re all born of luck, right?

The good news is, you can help increase the odds of successful pollination!  Use a small artist paintbrush to collect some pollen from the male, then paint it on the female pistil. Voila! You’ve made a squash baby!  You can actively look for female flowers each morning and find a male flower to “rob” for the purpose of creating fruit.  

Be careful not to cross-pollinate – yellow squash and zucchini will pollinate each other’s females, and you’ll get some weird fruit – and the seeds from those are usually sterile, and/or not true to their parents.  It happens by accident sometimes and that’s ok.  Also, this pollination technique works for other plants, like cucumbers, tomatoes and more.

Pro-Tip #3 – Pick Often to Produce More

Believe it or not, some plants will produce a lot more seeds/fruit when you harvest the ones it’s already growing.  Green beans, for instance, whether the bush or the pole variety, will push out more flowers after a harvest and set more seed pods when you harvest the ones that it’s already working on.

You see, it’s all about the biological processes of survival.  If a plant “thinks” that it doesn’t have any seeds to drop and procreate itself, it will immediately put on more flowers and create more seed pods.  If you take those pods away, it will start over, and over, and over, until it’s exhausted.  This is how beans give us such bountiful harvests time and again.  Tomatoes also do this to a certain extent, as do peppers, cucumbers, and many more flowering fruit plants. Try it and keep score!

I hope you enjoyed these tips for getting more yield from the garden.  I’m sure there are many more things we could talk about, but these are the ones on my mind right now.

Do you have your own great advice for getting better yields?  Share with the community.

I look forward to hearing from you.

In the meantime – enjoy the bounty that we can grow with our own two hands and a fair amount of sweat equity.  Eat well and be well in the garden!

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens

Top 10 Fertilizing Tips for Florida Gardens
By Marissa

You want to feed yourself and your family fabulous produce that you grew in your yard, and that’s awesome.  There’s nothing like that sense of accomplishment when you bring in baskets full of wonderful vegetables, or pop a beautifully sun-ripened cherry tomato in your mouth that you just picked off the plant.  When two-thirds of your dinner plate is colorful, delicious vegetables from your garden, you know you’re living a fantastic, purposeful life.

But when do you feed the plants that give you those great vegetable harvests?  Well, they will need a little something extra at several points during their growing cycle, and here are some tips for you to ensure that your plants will have everything they need to feed your family and still live happy, healthy plant lives. 

Before I dive in, there is one little thing that is important to know about fertilizer – it’s not technically “plant food” – rather it is a supplement of nutrients the plant needs to successfully create all of the nutritional molecules it needs to survive and thrive during its own photosynthesis process.  Think of fertilizer as something akin to taking Vitamins rather than eating a meal – it actually helps with knowing when it’s best to fertilize!

Here’s our top tips for fertilizing Florida Gardens – an article inspired by feedback from you, our customers!

#1 – Fertilize at Planting Time

Whether you’re planting seeds or starter plants, work organic fertilizer, nutrient-rich compost, or slow-release into the top 4-6” of soil of your planting area.  You can also drop a “3-finger pinch” into the planting hole, as long as it’s worked into the soil as well – you don’t want to burn the roots with too much nitrogen matter.  Always water fertilized areas well to activate the release of the nutrients from the dry granules. I recommend a 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose. Also, if you are planting peppers and/or tomatoes, you really should add dolomite lime to the soil you are planting those plants in, it will help you avoid blossom-end rot.

#2 – Fertilize When Seedlings Have First True Leaves

If you started with starter plants, this will not apply to you.  If you started from seeds, your sprouts will have their initial leaves – known as “seed leaves” or, scientifically, Cotelydons – that get the photosynthesis process started for the plant.  These leaves are responsible for getting the plant embryo inside the seed from the initial “rooting & shooting” stage to establishing a more complex and environmentally-engaged root system – they create the energy needed to establish the plant for better survival immediately.  

These leaves usually look a little different than the leaves at the time of fruit production later in life – so they probably won’t look like the pictures on the seed packet (and that’s ok). The leaves that form after the cotelydons are the true leaves, and true leaves will usually be higher on the stalk than the seed leaves.  

If you didn’t fertilize into the seed or seedling hole directly at the time of planting, work a small handful, or “a palm-full,” of fertilizer into the top inch of the soil around the bottom of the plant, keeping about 1” away from the stalk so that you don’t disturb the fragile newly-formed root ball too much. You could still go for the 3-3-3, 6-6-6, or 8-8-8 for this purpose (could do 10-10-10 if that’s all you have – just something balanced in all the NPK nutrients).

 

 

 

#4 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flush of Fruit – if you missed the first Flower Buds

Sometimes you look away for 5 seconds, and all of a sudden, you didn’t even see the first flowers – you now just have little fruits forming everywhere.  It’s ok – your plant is doing well with what you already fed it!  Just give it a little nudge now.  A small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil as a side dressing along each plant will work for this.

You can encourage the size of your fruits by giving them a little phosphorus and potassium (“K” in the NPK number) push when they set their first round of fruits.  Another great idea is some micronutrient boosters, such as FoxFarm’s Kelp Me Kelp You supplement – made from sustainable Kelp sources and teeming with all the right stuff for fantastic fruit.

Your Plants should be good through a harvest now.

 

#6 – Fertilize When Second Fruiting is Underway

Most plants are nearing the end of their “annual” lives by now, and the second flush of fruits can often be more productive than the first (really depending on the plant!).  It’s like they’re really hitting their groove. Biologically, the reason the plant fruits so much in the second fruiting is that it’s trying to produce viable seeds to continue the genetic line before the plant dies. 

They’re going to need some Phosphorus for heavy fruiting and Potassium for overall healthy growth and support, so a high- P and K fertilizer is good here.

 

#8 – Fertilize On A Schedule If Your Plants Have a Mixed Flowering/Fruiting Cycle

What if #5 & #6 above don’t really apply? Some plants don’t “flush” with flowers and fruits consecutively – rather, they will have flowers and fruits at the same time over the long haul.  A plant that comes to mind for me is pole beans, which function in a “the more you pick, the more I’ll produce” kind of behavior until the plant has exhausted all of its resources.  In that case, you can figure out when to fertilize based on production.

For example, when your two jalapeno pepper plants hit 30 peppers harvested and still has flowers, go ahead and fertilize and add dolomite.

After a season or two of growing and harvesting, you’ll be able to tell when your leafy kids need a boost. If you notice your pole beans start to slow down production, but you still see some flowers and the leaves look healthy, give them a good fertilizing and some compost tea and see if you can increase the bean count.  If not, well, you didn’t lose much with the experiment, and if you do get an increase, you know that your plant was just catching its breath and needed some nutrients to recover.

This is where your garden journal really comes in handy at tracking your growth and harvest cycles.

 

 

 

#10 – Be Consistent and Observant

I saved this tip for the very last because it is the thought I wanted to leave you with.  Even if consistent gardening for you is 10 minutes a day – 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening – be consistent about it.  Observe your plants’ behavior and you will learn when it needs a little push. You’ll know when it’s growing fine and doesn’t need more nutrients.  You’ll know when there’s too much fertilizer (plants look burned from too much nitrogen).  You’ll also know when your plant is eventually spent and can be pulled (and added to the compost pile if it’s not diseased) and replanted with something else.  Giving your plants building blocks so they can make the nutrients they need, when they need it, is one of the most important things we can do to help our gardens grow, thrive, and produce for us.

 

#3 – Fertilize When Plants Have First Flower Buds

You’ve probably been waiting awhile for the first flowers to show up.  It’s worth the wait! Your plants are growing long root structures and creating relationships with the microbial life in the soil, growing strong stems to support the eventual fruits that are coming, and the leaves it needs to feed all those processes. It’s a complex and wonderful time for a plant.

You can use the same fertilizer as above, but I would recommend a high Phosphorus (“P” in the NPK number on the fertilizer bag).  Phosphorus concentrates on growing strong blooms and fruits, and roots too, which are needed to feed said above-ground plant features.  Encouraging flowering will give you more fruit, and fruit is why we work so hard at vegetable gardening, right? Work a small fist-full into the top 1” of the soil around each plant.

 

#5 – Fertilize After First Harvest & Second Flowering Starts

You’ve harvested your first flush of fruit, pinched back the stems that had those fruits on them, and now you’re seeing more flowers starting to bud on new stems.  Give your plants some more 3-3-3, 6-6-6, 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. It’s also a good time for some more dolomite lime in the soil for those peppers, tomatoes, and the like.  If you have it, work some veggie compost, earthworm castings, mushroom compost into the soil as well to feed the roots (a great time to weed thoroughly!!), and do a couple of waterings with compost tea.  

**Simple Compost tea recipe: spread out a cheesecloth, a little bigger than a bandana, and place a double-handful of compost in the middle of it. Tie off the cheesecloth so that it makes a pouch tied with a single top knot.  Fill a 5-gallon bucket with water (rainwater if you have it) about 2/3 full and submerge the compost-in-cheesecloth in it. Cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, agitate it whenever you’re out and about in the garden. Use the water from that bucket to give your plants a nutrition-rich drink – they will love you for it – you’ll see!  It can be used at any growth stage, but I like to do it at this point to “recharge” the plant for it’s second round of production. Throw the dirt from the cheesecloth back in your compost, or add it to your garden’s soil for an extra boost.**

At this point in the plant’s life, it’s just run a marathon for you, and you’re helping it recover so that it can start training again for a second go!  See what I mean about the “Vitamins” analogy?

 

 

#7 – Fertilize Again If Your Plants Are Game For Round 3

If it seems like your plants are game for a third round, you can continue the above fertilizing pattern for the foreseeable future.  

Sometimes Annuals and Vegetables in Florida continually produce because our weather is so mild here. They will slow down in cooler weather, usually, but if it doesn’t get really cold, something you plant in Spring may be still producing in December – so don’t be surprised!  

Actually, our Florida garden’s most fearsome enemy is the unabating heat of summer – where it’s still 90+ degrees in the middle of the night, the roots and leaves don’t get a rest.

 

 

#9 – Specialty Fertilizers and Soil Additives Can Really Help

I’m sure you’ve seen the shelves in the fertilizer section with a myriad of different things with strange names on them.  Bone meal, blood meal, hydrated lime, bloom boosters, liquid kelp, bat guano, microbial enhancers/inoculators, Superthrive, acidifiers, micronutrient boosters, and so many more.  It can be overwhelming!  That’s why it’s important to have people on your side that you can talk to, like our staff at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply.  Stop in and ask us!

There are fertilizers that are formulated specifically for different kinds of plants as well, like Citrus, Palms, Azaleas/Rhododendrons, Roses, Tomato, Lawn & Landscape, and more.  Soil additives like Soil Conditioner helps add more organic and/or moisture-holding materials into the soil you already have. Florida soil in most areas is really sandy, so adding organic material and vermiculite or perlite help hold water near your plants’ roots longer so that they can have time to absorb it before the water runs through is helpful.  

Shell’s also formulated several fertilizers specifically for Florida soils to help your gardens thrive – please ask us about them! We have Organic too!

Another product that is helpful in keeping water near plant roots is Hydretain, which is an environmentally-friendly liquid that you apply through a hose-sprayer. It works wonders in areas of lawn, garden, and landscape that seem to not retain water at all, such as slopes.  I find it also helps to extend the crop life into the blistering heat of our summer.

 

 

I really hope this article is a good foundation for establishing your fertilizing “schedule” in your garden.  Please keep in mind that every single garden, and plant in it, is different. So while these tips work generally, your plants may need more, or less, depending on their individual environments, growing cycle, weather for that year, watering habits, soil microbial health, and many more variables.  

In the future I plan to bring you articles about nutrient deficiencies, so come visit us again for some helpful articles about that and other things.

For now, though, if you have questions, concerns, or comments about my tips here or any article in my blog, just contact me – I’m easy to find.  And you can always ask our experts at the store for your garden product and problem questions – that’s what we do!

Take care, and happy gardening!

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Top 5 Spring Gardening Tips

Top 5 Spring Gardening Tips
By Marissa

Alright, you’ve got your plants and seeds, and you’re ready to get started planting your garden.  But what plants should go where?  What about soil and water and food?  Are there plants that shouldn’t be next to each other? How do I take care of it all moving forward?

Well, those are all good, and valid questions.  And the answer is almost always, “It depends.”  I know, that’s not helpful.  However, I want you to know that there are resources out there for you to help get it right.

I also want you to know to not be afraid of your garden.  Experiment.  Play.  Keep notes.  If something isn’t working, try something else.  In the garden, change is good.  The benefits of the education you’ll receive about living systems far outweigh the costs.

Gardening is an epic, life-long adventure. There will be astounding feats of greatness that you accomplish. You will also lose dear (plant) friends along the way.  One of my favorite quotes is from the late, great, J.C. Raulston who said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not really stretching yourself as a gardener.”  Want to know more about Mr. Raulston and his accomplishments? Check this out.  He was a pretty impressive guy.

#4 – Create a Care Schedule

We are all busy people.  We have places to go, things to do, and people to take care of.  It’s important to remember that gardening isn’t a “set it and forget it” hobby.  Vegetables and annual plants/flowers require consistent care and attention. 

But it doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time.  A few minutes per day, and then a block of time on your day off, will get you to harvest and/or bloom with great results. Incorporate garden time into your schedule, just like making dinner or brushing your teeth. 

10-15 minutes daily in the morning to water, pull a couple of weeds, monitor the health of your garden, harvest a few things that are ready, and look for/remove pests are all you need to do during the week.  Getting outside for a few minutes gives you fresh air, exercise, and maybe a little bit of sunshine to start your day.  A quick note in your journal on what you did or noticed will help you keep track.

If you’re REALLY busy, enlist helpers.  Teach kids to take on certain “chores” and hold them responsible.  Once your plants are established, for example, weeding is a great chore for kids. Challenge them to keep your garden weed-free for a prize at harvest time.  Teach them how to recognize when the green beans or jalapenos are ready to be picked and let them do it.  It’s really fun to see their happy faces when they eat something they had a hand in creating.  Or maybe there’s a neighbor who would love to help (and share in the harvest).

 

 

 

#2 – Plants need regular watering

It’s recommended that we humans drink at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water every day because we need water to survive. Likewise, plants need regular drinks of water too.  Water is the fluid that keeps leaves open to collect the sun’s energy, keeps nutrients available where needed, and is the substrate where all of the biochemical processes for life happen in a plant (and really, in us too).  

In places like Florida where we have high humidity, if you can water the soil without touching the leaves, your chances of harmful fungul diseases of the leaves decreases dramatically. Soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and containers that water from the bottom (like Earthboxes), are the best way to do this.

If this isn’t possible, just make sure you water in the mornings so that the sun can dry the leaves.  Dark moist environments are bad fungi’s dream environment (just think of athlete’s foot, but on your plants).

Watch for leaf wilt on hot afternoons (see picture to the right), if this happens then your morning watering is not delivering enough, you’ll need to water more.  And some plants just need more water than others, you might try supplemental watering of certain plants using bottles you stick into the soil that leak water out slowly (I’ve done that on hot patios when I didn’t have an Earthbox), there’s lots of DIY for bottle watering if you look around the ‘net for it.

#5 – Plan Your Garden, Garden Your Plan

 

We know the basics of plant life, right?  Light, Soil, Water, Food, Air, Temperature.  All of these factors play a big role in the life of your garden.  An imbalance in any of these can nip your success in the bud – pun intended.

In my two previous blogs, Tips for a Great Garden Plan Part 1 and Part 2 I discuss many of the things to think about when planning a garden.  These articles cover a lot so I won’t repeat it all here.

I do want to point out one thing, though.  After you do all of your planning, drawing, and such, follow that plan.  Unless you learn you royally screwed something up in the plan – like not having a structure for your pole beans to climb or figuring out that where you thought you had 8 hours of sun only gets 2 hours – then follow the plan.  It makes your notes through the growing season more accurate so you can take what you learn and apply it to future gardens.

 

 

#3 – Plants Need Food

Just as we need to eat, plants need to eat too.  They create energy from photosynthesis, which is the process of using the energy of light to take the carbon out of carbon dioxide to make glucose (sugar) to feed itself and release oxygen back to us (plants are why we can breathe).  Carbon is the basic building block of all life.  But plants need so much more.

To thrive, plants also need Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium – they’re called the Macronutrients (NPK).  These are the numbers you see on fertilizer bags. A high nitrogen (N) fertilizer will promote solid green growth of leaves and stems.  Phosphorous (P) takes care of flowering and root growth.  Potassium (K) also increases root growth and establishes the overall health and growth rate of the plant. Plants need other minor elements too, like Sulphur, Magnesium, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, and more. 

And finally, they need beneficial microbes and mycorrhizae in the soil to help them assimilate those nutrients and establish plant communities.  Fungi, for example, have a very extensive network of nutrient gathering “roots” that trade sugar that the plant makes for water and nutrients that the fungi gather.  This is known as a symbiotic relationship.

Fertilizers and soil additives are a manual way to enrich soil that is deficient in the nutrients and microbials your plant needs. They come in organic and regular varieties. This is a huge topic, so I would suggest talking to gardeners you know, researching with the UF/IFAS websites, or asking us here at the store.  That said, in general the most important times to feed your plants are 1) at the time of planting; 2) at the time of the first flowering; and 3) at the time of the first fruit setting, with small amounts through the middle of the harvest time (and in Florida often you can extend harvest time by a few weeks with continued harvesting and feeding).

#1 – Observe the Wonders of Your Garden

I can’t stress enough how many wonderful things your garden will teach you and your family over time.  You’ll learn what the plants you like to grow want, and when they want it. You’ll see little insects and figure out if they are good or bad for your garden.  You’ll taste the freshest most delicious produce you’ve ever eaten in your life.  You’ll smell flowers, freshly-worked soil, Spring rain, and the scents that certain plants have, like tomatoes, or geraniums, or rosemary.  With a journal you can look back on gardens past and remember what worked and what didn’t.

Through a garden, you will grow as a human being who shares this planet with other wonderful creatures.  Only by diving in and experiencing these true wonders of the world will you know the joys of getting your hands dirty like this.  I suggest you get started, right now.  We’re here to help – just ask us!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re enjoying these gardening thoughts.  Care to share? Send me a comment, or email me a question.

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2

Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2
By Marissa

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

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

Starting from Seed

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

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

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

I don’t want to be “normal”

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

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

 

Starter Plants

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

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

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

How Much Should I Water?

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

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

 

Let’s Talk Soil

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Keeping a Garden Journal

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

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

 

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

Some Plants Don’t Play Well Together – Be Aware

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

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

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

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

 

Now It’s Your Turn!

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

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

Have fun! 

Sincerely,

Marissa

 

More things to Consider When Making Your Plan

  • How will you get water to your plants?  

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

It really is concentrated applied and active composting.

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

 

Planting by Groups

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

I’ll Show You Mine

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

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

My special notes say:

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

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

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

 

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

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