Which of these Gardening Mistakes Will You Make This Winter?

If you’re reading this in Michigan, you probably think I’m nuts right now. But where I sit here in sunny Florida, last year at Christmas is was 80 degress outside. So guess what? Gardening happens in Winter here too!

That means fresh produce from the garden year round. And that’s great for people who love that fresh-from-the-backyard-harvested-5-minutes-ago taste.

But there are some mistakes you can make in the garden in Florida Winter. Let’s talk about a few so you’re prepared.

Mistake #1: There’s a surprise freeze and you don’t have anything to cover your prized petunias.

This one is pretty simple to avoid — what’s that old Boy Scout motto? Be Prepared!

For Surprise freezes, it’s important to have something on hand and ready to go. I recommend N-Sulate is an awesome product for protecting your crops from the light freezes we may get here (some years we have none, other years we have several, and everything in between).

When used as directed, it is more effective than using old towels and bedsheets, AND it is light enough that it won’t crush young or sensitive plants. So, definitely get some. We have it for you, ready and waiting for you to pick up. And we can make sure you understand how to use this product so that you have the best chances of avoiding frost damage.

N-Sulate is a great product to have around as a “just in case” measure.

N-Sulate Covering Seedlings

Mistake #2: You have no protected place to move your container plants if we do have a freeze.

Trying to move your potted palm into your living room when there’s a freeze coming could present quite a problem, and a mess, for you. But you ran out of room in the garage and don’t know what else to do.

Don’t let that be you!

It’s so important to have an area that you know you can move some of your container plants into in the event of a freeze.

Thanks to GardenLady for the pic of plants stacked in the garage during cold weather.

Whether it’s the garage, or a porch, or a greenhouse, make sure there’s a protected space you can put some pots if there’s a freeze coming.

And while you’re at it, secure some help beforehand too, maybe a neighbor where you can make a deal, “I’ll help you move yours if you help me move mine.” No sense in breaking backs, right? 

Neighbors about to team-lift a heavy potted plant.

Also, your neighbor might have extra room they’d be willing to let you borrow, you know, for a nice bottle of wine or that awesome appetizer you make with your tomatoes, basil, and some fresh mozzarella. Never be above bartering for help!

So, have a place to put your plants for a freeze. Just in case. You never know when Old Man Winter will take a swipe at us.

Mistake #3: You’ve decided to grow sun-hungry plants this Winter.

Ah, yes, this is a good one!

So, you love tomatoes. You really LOVE them. That’s great, we all need a favorite food (it’s one of mine too).

I see toasted bread and mayo to make a tomato sandwich in that tomato’s future.

But did you know that most tomatoes will only reach optimal production with 8+ hours per day of sun? With the shortened amount of daylight in the Winter, as well as the decreased angle of the sun (it’s not high overhead like it is during the summer, it’s more to the South in Winter), your sunlight prospects are usually quite limited during Winter.

Most sun-hungry plants don’t get enough sun in Winter to do much fruiting. That’s why the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Science doesn’t list them as a Winter crop, mainly (the temperature too, but lately, it’s been warm enough).

Strong tomato stalks and leaves are important for when fruiting does start.

Now, these sun-hungry WILL grow nice strong stalks and leaves, albeit more slowly, and (BONUS!) with the cooler weather there’s less pests and fungus to contend with.

Many folks have luck planting tomatoes and other plants like it such as eggplants and bell peppers in Winter and then letting them grow strong stems, then they’re ready to start fruiting as we come into Spring when others are just getting their seedlings in the ground.

Of course, you’re gambling with the possibility of a freeze…but hey…worth the risk, right? (And, see #1 and #2 above for help with that).

Tomatoes split from freezing – water expands when it’s frozen. Yay science!

Just know that those kinds of plants don’t fruit as well this time of year.

There’s the top 3 mistakes we at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply see Florida Gardeners make in the Winter growing season.

Do you want to know more about what you SHOULD plant this Winter in Florida?

Come take my What To Plant In Your Florida Garden, the Winter Edition, on Saturday, November 16, at 11 am.

My in-store flyer for this class – taught by yours truly! Come play with me!

This “What to Plant in Your Florida Garden” series is a quarterly class I do seasonally to help people who want to garden in Florida but haven’t quite gotten the hang of what to plant when, and it’s our #1 asked question at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply by our customers. It’s a fun class!

If you moved to Florida but had a great garden up North, this is the class for you. If you’re a Floridian but you were taught to garden by a Northerner, this is also a great class for you.

I hope to see you there!

Until then…keep growing!

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. You can always get great gardening tips in my blog, or also from the UF IFAS web resource. Here’s a couple of links for you:

EDIS Gardening Guide: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021

Florida Gardening Calendar: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/florida-gardening-calendar/

P.P.S. Other articles in my blog are here, please check it out!

Gardening – it’s a Family Affair; A Tribute to Mark Govan

Our world was rocked this week by some very tragic news. One of our local gardening legends, Mark Govan, has passed away. In the wake of this terrible loss, and in his honor, I am going to depart from my usual article format to bring you something a little more personal and heartfelt.

A Tribute to Mark Govan

Mark Govan and Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply have a long history. He’s been promoting us for many years, we’ve been paying advertisers on his radio show for a long time, and we have referred people to back to him for years. You could say we are “superfans” of Mark’s.

Our store had just resumed advertising on the Florida Gardening Radio show in the last few months. We wanted to support Mark somehow after the media conglomerate cancelled his show right near the 25 year mark, but we weren’t sure how to do it. After David Graham of Graham Capital Advisors purchased the show (thank you David! Mark was SO thrilled!), we knew we could be on the air with Mark again. We were so excited, and to celebrate I made a whole new ad campaign around it (see image below).

Part of our awesome ad campaign for our support of Mark’s 25-years-and-running show, Florida Gardening Radio.

In fact, Mark and I had just corresponded last week about upcoming shows, and now he’s just…gone. Just like that.

This sad turn of events has made me pause from many of my normal marketing duties for Shell’s Feed. Mr. Shell and I are both pretty shaken up, and honestly, it has made us both realize that sometimes the stuff we get all uptight about around the store doesn’t actually matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

Further, Mark’s passing has made me think: “If I were to be gone tomorrow, what would I want my legacy to be?” I’m not sure if most people even think about that. Maybe you do. If you have thoughts about your legacy, or what you feel Mark’s legacy is to all of us, I’d love to hear it, please feel free to leave a comment on this article.

You see, we here at Shell’s are a family business, just like Mark’s business at ABC Pest Control and BuyPlumerias.com. Just this Spring I purchased two beautiful plumerias from Mark at the USF Spring Plant Sale at the Botanical Gardens. And just a couple weeks ago, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Mark’s daughter as she was having fun being the in-studio guest on his show. It was great listening to their relationship play out on the air.

Families Find Strength in Each Other

So, now I am thinking about how a family finds the strength to carry on when the Patriarch (or when a Matriarch) has moved into the next phase of existence. How does a family keep going after losing someone so dear, who is missed so much?

I’m sure it’s different for everyone. But for me, it’s the memories.

Mark will continue to be present in every life that he touched through his companies, and through his 25 years giving great garden advice and providing great educational content on the radio. Many people have ‘garden hacks’ they learned from Mark. Many more have learned to troubleshoot their garden issues from his advice. He lives on through these lessons, and the knowledge he freely and happily shared with others.

Mark Govan at the helm during his 25-year run as host of the Florida Gardening Show.

I had a Gardening Dad, Too

This sad event also makes me think of my biggest influence in gardening, my Dad, who passed away when I was a teenager. If you’ve heard me speak, or even read some of my early blog entries, I talk about my Dad being a ‘subsistence farmer’. He didn’t think of it that way, he called it survival. He grew food to eat, because food is expensive.

My Daddy, before he went to Vietnam.

I still do some things today the way Dad did them back then…it’s been nearly 3 decades since he was around to share his knowledge. I still have his books on gardening. I still have all the memories of digging in the dirt, of eating tomatoes before they made it into the house, with the raised eyebrow of my Mema when she would catch me. In my mind’s eye I can still see the way the garden was set up, and the layout of his whole homestead property.

So, I carry on what I learned from my Dad just by continuing to garden. It’s how I remember him. I’d like to think he’d be proud of me.

I don’t have very many pictures of my Dad, but when I was a kid this was often how we spent our time, nestled in a recliner with our Dachsund keeping us warm. I still remember it.

Looking to the Future

I know that ABC Pest Control is going strong, and they will continue helping people in his tradition, because I know that is what Mark would have wanted. And I know that Mark’s family will continue helping people and providing great service just like Mark did all those years. It’s all in the family, this practice of helping people.

I would imagine Mark would have wanted for us to remember him by making our little corners of the world more beautiful through gardening.

So, Mark, this is our fond farewell. Sunday mornings won’t ever be the same without you.

Thank you for all you did for the gardening community here in Tampa Bay, and in Florida. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

We’re all still learning from you. May it always be so.

Sincerely,

Marissa

P.S. This Saturday’s Monthly Community Seed Swap is 9am-10:30am and if anyone would like to come and talk about Mark and share advice he’s given you over the years through his show I’m happy to do so.

Your Resource for Florida Fall Gardening

Gardening in the Fall has been a favorite of mine ever since I was a child.

My dad grew 2 main gardens a year – Spring & Fall – which provided produce to eat for most of the year. When something died, he popped in a new seed or seedling, utilizing all his garden space to feed himself.

The garden was his main source of food.

Knowing that seedlings can get off to a great start with the bright sun & high rainfall in August/September, Fall really is a great time to plant a garden in Florida.

Also knowing that cooler weather is coming to help us work longer hours in the garden (without heat stroke!) is definitely something to look forward to.

A bit of a rewind…

Did you know we started this blog in August of 2017? That means the blog is 2 years old this month! WOW, does time fly.

to Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply’s Blog!
Oh and to the author too… 🙂

In honor of the blog turning 2, & Marissa’s birthday coming up TOMORROW (yikes another one!), we’re doing a review of a few articles already written on Fall Gardening in Florida here in the blog.

So often the answers to your garden questions are all RIGHT HERE. For free.

Most of you reading today weren’t even aware of the blog when it started; you may not know how much information is already here, ready & waiting for you to discover. Let’s show you a few, shall we?


Speaking of great information, have you seen our 5 days of videos recorded live on Facebook earlier this month? More below:

Did you participate in our Create a Garden Plan 5-Day Challenge earlier this month? If not, some good advice is in there from Marissa about Creating a Garden Plan – and why you would want to! Join the Shell’s Garden Community on Facebook to see the videos right now!

There’s a few zingers of advice in those videos…


Now, on with this week’s blog:

Here’s a few articles to look back on right now to help you with your Florida Fall Garden.

1. Tips for a Great Garden Plan Parts 1 & 2

Wow, looking back at these articles that were written right at the beginning of Spring season 2019, they were JAM-PACKED full of great garden planning. Much of that content was re-purposed into the 5-Day Challenge that just ran in our Facebook group earlier this month (mentioned in the section above)

If you prefer to read print info rather than watching videos, that’s cool. These two articles really break it down into actionable steps to take to plan a garden, save money, record your successes, failures & the entire enjoyable journey!

shells feed garden supply tampa florida gardening plan spring 2019 planning

Part 1 covers using the almanac to assist you in your planning, why your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is so important to know, deciding what you want to grow, analyzing the hours of sunshine you get in your selected growing spot, deciding your basic garden structure, & why a garden journal is so helpful to you.

shells feed garden supply tampa florida gardening planning plan journal spring 2019

Part 2 covers starting your garden from seeds versus starter plants, the importance of planning your water source for the garden, making sure that you have the time to take care of the garden you are planting, soil amendment, journaling, & some helpful tips like companion planting. I even have pictures of the plan for the garden I planted this past Spring in there for your reference.

2. Preparing for Your Florida Fall Garden

This article covers quite a lot – great advice for anyone just starting out that doesn’t have their seasonal gardening routine established yet.

It’s also a wonderful reference for your planting timing in Florida and how much it differs from places up north.

You see, much of the information you read on the internet about gardening is geared towards climates that actually have weather-based seasons.

In Florida, we just have variations of HOT depending on what month it is. This allows us to grow all year round.

So have a look at this article to prepare for your Florida Fall Garden adventures.

3. Container Prep for Fall Planting (an Infographic)

You might be sensing a theme here.

Preparation for gardening is really important, & if you’re a container gardener, there’s a few extra prep steps to take when using containers you’ve used previously.

This infographic gives you tips for preparing your containers for planting – it was written in Fall but it’s great for container preparation for any season.

4. Right Now In The Garden: Planting for Florida’s Fall Growing Season

Oh this was a fun one!

I put together a list of great veggies to grow in your Fall Garden. THIS is the answer to one of our TOP 3 questions asked by our customers on a daily basis!

It contains a pretty image list of plants to grow in Fall. How cool is that? Take a look.

5. Back-to-School Fall Project: Simple Container Planting

A crash course in container plantings that have a theme, these Simple Container Plantings were created as a fun back-to-school project so that busy parents could have a Moment of Zen to relax via gardening, make something pretty, & get their hands dirty after they drop off the kids.

It includes plant-o-grams (you like that? I made it up!) for insect-repelling containers, a cooking & garnish garden, and a lovely leafy greens planting with simple coleus for color. Also a few tips on why containers are planted like they are, & what you really need to do to take care of them, and keep them thriving as long as possible.

The main message for this Simple Container Planting article? YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO PLAY.

So, to wrap it up…

We have a lot of information that is here for you, anytime you need it. To see the entire library, click this link and scroll through the entry “stubs” and images to see what might interest you. I’d love to hear your feedback.


**quick note** I am currently working on conforming to changes in the WordPress website blog formatting which has left some of my blogs difficult to read. If you are having issues with a particular blog please let me know right away – I see and respond to article comments, or you can email me: marissa at shellsfeed dot com (make that into and email address 🙂 )


Thanks for being a great customer and/or fan of our store (I realize some of you might be too far away to stop in and say hi).

We strive every day to be a fantastic community resource for gardening, urban farming, and pet supplies as well as having knowledgeable staff to help you out with your questions.

We’ll see you soon for your Fall Gardening supplies list!

Happy gardening!

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

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.

 

The Solarizing Solution: 4 Steps to Freedom

The Solarizing Solution: 4 Steps to Freedom
By Marissa

Would you believe me if I told you that there is a way to kill off pesky weeds and diseases from your garden? Would you believe me if I told you that all you need to do this is some clear plastic sheeting – sealed over your garden for 6 weeks – to keep your soil weed and disease free for 3-4 months! It all sounds too good to be true, but with a bit of elbow grease, you can “Solarize” your garden. The best news is that the summertime is the BEST time to do it.

What is Solarization?

It’s been a commercial agricultural practice for years now, but Solarization is also a great alternative to chemical treatments for weeds, nematodes, and soil-borne diseases. It works well on an industrial scale, but it’s perfectly achievable for your home garden or homestead. You’ll need to invest some effort up front, but it’ll save you hours of backbreaking work in the months to come. All you need is the power of the summer sun and a few basic supplies and you can take on tricky pests that are hard to get out of the garden by other means.

Nematodes and Other Garden Pains

Many of us shudder at the mention of Nematodes! Once these critters make their way into your garden, they are terribly hard to get rid of. These unwelcome parasites burrow into the root channels of your plants. These nutrient highways from the ground to the leaves are taken over by the nematodes, who steal the nutrients for themselves. Without the sustenance they need, you’ll see wilt and decreased fruit production when your plants are affected. If you pull up your dying plant, you’ll see “root knots” in their root system, where the pests have made their home.

If they’re so hard to get rid of, what can you do to protect your garden? The summer is the ideal time to harness the power of the sun to heat up your soil to get rid of persistent pests and weeds. Our hot and intense summer sunshine is perfect to boost temperatures and keep them high, which is exactly what you need to sterilize the soil with solarization.

nematode plant damage
nematode-caused root knots, a tell-tale sign of nematodes

How to Solarize

Getting rid of nasty pests and boosting the health and yield of your garden to come sounds great. We’ve broken down how you can solarize at home this summer. This process works for any patch you want – from raised beds, to garden patches, even up to multiple rows in small farms. You won’t be able to use the land as you sterilize it, but solarizing in the summer sets you up for a great fall growing season.

What you’ll need:

  • Area(s) that you want to treat, mapped out and measured (it’s helpful to also have sq ft calculated)
  • Roll(s) of 3mil plastic, to fit the area you want to treat, plus about a foot for the edges. You can purchase this right at our store, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.
  • Several large stones to secure plastic. Plan to use them in the center and corners of your treatment area
  • Shovel
  • Hoe, twist cultivator, rotary cultivator, and/or hand tiller tool, if you have them
  • A little patience, a helper if you have one, and some sweat equity

assortment of hand-cultivators/tillers

Step 1: Pull Weeds and Cultivate Soil

Give your solarization process a head start by pulling all weeds from the area you are covering. If you have a rototiller (like in the drawing), you can use that to do the weeding and soil loosening for you. If you’re pulling weeds by hand, get as many of the roots as you can, and shake off the soil. Dispose of the weeds away from your garden beds, especially if they have already seeded. Unseeded weeds could be great compost, but seeded weeds are a better fit for a worm bin, if you have one. After pulling weeds, use a shovel, hoe, or cultivator tool to loosen the soil in the top 4-6.” It’s great exercise, but mixing up the soil is important to make sure your solarization process heats up properly.

Step 2: Rake Gently and Shape Ground for Drainage

If you want to add new dirt or compost to fill in the area, right now is the time to do it! As you rake and shape your soil, you will want to set it up for the solarization process. You’ll want to ensure that rain runs off the bed, instead of collecting in puddles. To do this, rake your bed so that it’s a little humped in the middle. Aim for a shape that is nearly flat, but with a slight curve so that gravity will feed the water down towards the edges of the garden bed. Think of it like a roadway, where there is a slight crest at the middle of the road that provides drainage into the gutters or shoulders of the road.

Do not compact the soil when you rake – in other words, don’t step on it! Stand off to the side when working. If you walk on it you’ll undo your hard work loosening the soil in Step 1.

Step 3: Water

It might seem counterintuitive, but watering is a very important step in this process. The right amount of water will boost your solarization process by conducting heat into your garden. Water will pull the heat from the surface further into the ground than dry soil. However, swampy muddy soil will not have the proper effect and may block your ability to kill certain pests and seeds in the soil. Like Goldilocks, it needs to be just right.

The morning after it rains is always a good time.If you have an irrigation system for that area, about an hour after the sprinklers run is a good time. You can hand-water as well, but we recommend a sprinkler for 20-30 minutes at least.

Step 4: Lay Plastic and Secure Properly

Now for the last and most important step: laying and securing the plastic.

Take your 3mil thickness clear plastic and measure out a piece that is about 12 inches bigger than your area (you need extra along the edges to secure the plastic). Stretch your plastic tightly over the area – this is where having a helper is especially beneficial – and place stones on the corners to hold it down. Using the shovel, bury the edges of the plastic completely underground so that wind and rain will not disturb them and pull them up. You want your patch of garden to be safe and secure under the plastic covering for the sterilization to work. Here are some example pictures:

Note: If your edges are sufficiently weighted down, you don’t need the stones in the middle.

If you get a rip or hole in the plastic, a small piece of duct tape should hold it closed enough for the solarization to be effective. However, large holes or animal digging can compromise the process, and might not kill off all the pests and weeds.

Leave the plastic for at least 6 weeks to make the solarization effective. Less time will mean less pest-killing potential. Once you remove the plastic, avoid putting new dirt into the bed, as you might be re-introducing weeds, pests, or disease into your newly-scrubbed bed.

The effects of the “cleansing” usually last up to 3-4 months, which is long enough for a Fall Garden! You can consider the solarization process to be a key prep-steps to get ready for the Florida Fall Gardening season, which is an amazing time to grow all kinds of goodies.

Note: If during your Fall Gardening after you’ve planted your plants you notice weeds popping up right near/under your plants, these are weeds that were in the soil that came from the plant grower. Because if this, I recommend growing your Fall Garden, after Solarization, from seed, just so you can thoroughly enjoy the benefits of being weed and pest free! Also, mowing/trimming can kick weed seeds into your garden beds, so just be aware that this can happen and be cautious when you are mowing and trimming to direct the grass outlet away from your garden!

Hope this was helpful, please let us know if you have any questions!

Thanks,

Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

Repelling Mosquitoes, Naturally

Repelling Mosquitoes, Naturally

By Marissa

There is a lot of information out there about repelling mosquitoes and other biting flies. Commercially, using a low concentration of DEET is the widely-accepted standard. But there are also common concerns about the dangers of this chemical and the petroleum-based delivery system often found tagging along with it.

What about some natural ways to remedy the mosquito situation? I’ve got a list right here:

Remove Standing Water

The best way to deter mosquitoes is to prevent them from living and increasing their numbers around your home! They don’t like to travel very far, so making your home less than inviting for them will keep their numbers down. Removing standing water is a great way to drastically change how many of these annoying biters you deal with this summer.

Mosquitoes are crafty creatures, and their larvae can survive in about 1 Tablespoon of water. While they need this water to be able to reproduce, they are very creative about finding spots to lay their eggs and grow. This means that you have to be consistently diligent about removing standing water from your environment.

Dishes under plants need to be cleaned out every other day. That harvest bucket you left out overnight accidentally and then it rained? Yep, empty it and put it away. Birdbath? Put a small pump to keep the water moving (birds like this too), or clean it out every other day. Old tires, old boats, junk piles…get rid of them if you can.

If you have a decorative pond, that’s cool. Try using a mosquito dunk (we have them!). Or, get some koi or goldfish, for a pretty backyard companion that loves to eat larvae. Keeping the surface of the water moving helps keep mosquitoes at bay as well, so maybe put a small floating fountain or pump in the pond, if it’s big enough.

Use Cedar Oil Spray

I can’t stress enough how well Cedar Oil works for ridding your landscape of mosquitoes. The stuff is amazing! Derived from Thuja-variety cedar trees, spray it on, allow it to dry, and enjoy a mosquito/no-see-um free yard. We sell ours in a bottle that has a hose-attachment point, making it easy to attach and spray. Reapply as needed.

Because of the concentration of the Cedar Oil (ours is 17%), do not apply it directly to the skin. It’s strong enough to irritate your skin, and we don’t want that. There’s other stuff better designed to use on your skin if you need.

Plant a Mosquito-Fighting Patio Planter

Much of our knowledge of the effects of plants on biting flies comes from traditions of herbalists and backwoods practice. It’s sadly a dying artform at this point in our history, but there is lots that we can still learn and use at home.

Many believe now that everything has to be proven by science, and being a biologist, I totally understand where they’re coming from. However, I also respect the traditions of the past and like to experiment with them until I find the ones that work for me. Different people have subtle differences in their chemical makeup, so different things work for different people (like the same perfume smells different on different people). Feel free to experiment to find something that works for you and your home that you are comfortable using and helps ensure a more comfortably mosquito-free experience for you.

To utilize some popular mosquito-repelling plants, you’ll want a good-sized (LARGE) planter for your patio to have room for a variety of pest-control plants within easy reach. Here’s a fun plant-o-gram for you:

Outer Ring:
– Light Green: Marigolds – natural source of pyrethrum, found in insecticide (when extracted and concentrated) and known to many companion planting gardeners as a natural pest deterrent.
– Pink: Floss Flower – mosquitoes don’t like the scent, but butterflies & hummingbirds do!
– Light Orange: Lemon-scented Geranium (Pelargonium crispum) – many say that lemon-scented plants deter biting flies (lemon verbena, lemon thyme also).
– Dark Purple: PennyRoyal – used historically in indoor and outdoor containers (please keep it in a container, it is INVASIVE) and flower arrangements to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay.
– Teal: Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) – put a handful of leaves into a pot and cover with water (about a cup or cup and a half), boil until leaves are dark, then allow to cool, place whole concoction into a sprayer bottle and mist yourself and clothing when needed to keep mosquitoes away.
– Blue: Catnip (Nepeta cateria) – contains nepetalactone – one study showed that catnip was effective at low concentrations at repelling mosquitoes (the study results are debated, and no further work was done on the topic). If you have a cat, you might want to swap out the catnip for something else if you don’t want your cat rummaging around in the container!

Marigolds, Floss Flower, Lemon Verbena, Catmint
Catnip, Lavandin (Lavender), Sage, Rosemary, Basil

Inner Ring:
– Purple: Lavender – Plant a Lavandin variety, which has a higher concentration of camphor (used most often by soap makers!)
– Grey: Sage – burn it to keep away pests (great for campfires or fire pits)
– Orange: Rosemary – you can also burn Rosemary to keep away pests
– Dark Green: Basil – oil is toxic to mosquitoes, it’s easy to crush a leaf and rub on exposed skin – plus inhaling the scent of basil gives you a feeling of being wide awake!

You can, of course, plant these all individually and spread them around your patio as well! They do give nice pops of color…and with the Catnip and Catmint, kitties will be grateful too!

Watch Out For Snake Oil Salesmen…

Warning, controversial content alert! Here it is: Citronella is NOT a geranium. (Whaaaaaat?)

The “citronella plant” geranium (sold in box stores) is Pelargonium citrosum. It smells a little bit like Citronella, and even has some of the same phytochemicals, but it is NOT where Citronella Oil comes from. And I see mosquitoes landing on the leaves all the time, unfazed.

Actual Citronella Oil comes from a variety of lemongrass Cymbopogon nardus (also known as nard grass or mana grass) that grows up to 6 feet tall. The oil is released when you brush up against the plant, or crush a leaf blade.

Most products that say they contain citronella do not have enough of the oil to make a difference – so honestly, don’t waste your money if you are buying them for their repelling purposes. The exception would be pure essential oil extracts of Citronella used in essential-oil based bug repellents, which I personally find quite effective.

Actual citronella is too big for a planter like this – that’s why it’s not included in the plantogram!! Plant it in the ground, or in its own large container as a statement piece. Be careful, though, the oil from crushed blades of the citronella is pretty potent and can be irritating to sensitive skin.

Avoiding the Buzzzzzzzz…

So, these are my tips for keeping mosquitoes at bay during your outside time. Keep in mind that most of the time, to get the benefits of a plant’s repelling power, you have to crush a leaf or two (or burn, in the case of sage and rosemary) so that the oils are exposed. So experiment, and see what happens, taking precautions with sensitive skin of course.

Hope it helps! Let me know your mosquito solutions in the comments or on our Facebook page!

Thanks,
Marissa

 

Marissa – Writer for Shell's Feed & Garden Supply

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

 

4 Steps to Eliminate Fleas For Good

4 Steps for Eliminating Fleas For Good

By Marissa

You’ve seen ads for flea products all over the place, I’m sure. Most of them are just for your pets. The most important aspect of flea control is probably keeping your fuzzy friend comfortable and healthy.

As much as I hate bearing bad news, I think it’s important that you know: it’s not just your pet that needs to keep flea-free. Flea problems can happen seemingly overnight in your home and in your yard as well. It’s enough of a problem that you need a strategy to avoid it.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! Here’s the 4 steps to eliminate fleas from your life!

Step 1: Treat Your Pet

Of course, I’m starting with the easiest step. There are many different products out there that help with fleas on your animal(s), and it’s very important that you get a product that will work well for your money.

Out of the many products out there, we find that for the sheer number of fleas that our climate can produce, you’ll need a couple of things to handle them effectively.

  • An already flea-infested animal should be flea-dipped. We recommend Adams Flea Dip for this process. It’s been around for many years, is safe for cats and dogs, has a strong but pleasant fragrance, and is effective at taking out the majority of fleas. Make sure that there are no open sores on your pet or you’ll cause unnecessary discomfort – depending on the severity you may need to see a veterinarian. We have one that comes to the store every 2 weeks (see our Event calendar on Facebook here).
  • If you see one or two fleas on your pet or noticed one jumped on you when you were getting snuggles, a topical “on-the-skin” flea medication should be very effective. These are applied behind the head and between the shoulder blades, usually monthly, and are quite reasonably priced for what they do. Many offer additional protections from ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies as well. We recommend Advantage or Advantix for over-the-counter control. Your veterinarian may have a prescription topical option for you as well.
  • Your pet doesn’t have fleas, but likes to go outside a lot, or is visiting places where other pets might have fleas. Flea prevention is the BEST way to avoid having an issue at all. You can go with the over-the-counter topicals mentioned above, OR you can get a prescription from your veterinarian for an edible flea prevention. Oral medications like Trifexis for dogs work well, and have the additional benefit of protecting your pet from heartworms. Your veterinarian can guide you further on what the best options for your pet are from a prescription standpoint.

Step 2: Treat Your Home

Making sure that your home is flea-free is also important. Fleas can hide anywhere in a house, and eggs can lay dormant for a year or more waiting for the right conditions. Treating your home includes carpet, furniture, mattresses, clothing, curtains, and more. If your pet has been infested with fleas, it’s possible that your home has them as well. Here’s how to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep fleas from taking over in your home.

  • Apply a flea dust in your carpet, furniture upholstery (not leather), mattresses, etc. We recommend Adams Carpet Dust. Following package instructions, leave the dust for a period of time and then vacuum it up. You may need to vacuum twice. Make sure you get all the cracks and crevices, especially on furniture!
  • If your home still has fleas after this, you may need to do a flea fogger. This is a chemical that permeates the air and kills pretty much all bugs in the home. You have to vacate the house for a certain amount of time, so make arrangements and take care of it. You can do it! We recommend Enforcer Flea Fogger. I highly recommend you ask an associate the best usage of this product, and follow the package instructions as well – usually you need one can per major open area of the house. I also recommend washing all dishes you use after a fogging, all bedding, and all clothing too. Better safe than sorry!
  • Remove beds/blanket/towels or other items that your pet has used for bedding while flea-infested and either wash them in hot water with Borax, or discard them outside the home in a closed trash can.
  • Pick up any clutter from your home’s soft surfaces (carpeted floors, sofas, recliners) and remove bedding. Any clothing and bedding that could have come in contact with the dog should be washed on the warmest setting possible. Use Borax as directed on the package in your laundry to help kill fleas and dislodge flea eggs. Use a high temperature drying setting as well if you can.
  • Wipe down all hard surfaces thoroughly. Include everything from counters, cabinets, tubs, showers, etc, cleaning the sponge/rag frequently in hot water with cleaning solution (please use gloves!). Wipe down walls and baseboards with a damp, hot towel, rinsing and wringing it out frequently. Scrub floors with a strong cleaning solution like bleach or Pine-Sol and rinse well, or use a steam mop to hot-clean them.

Step 3: Treat Your Yard

Your pet must have gotten fleas from somewhere. If your yard is where they spend most of their time, these hungry fleas are most likely hanging out in your yard. To keep the fleas from traveling back inside, you have to treat your yard too!

Step 4: BE CONSISTENT

This is almost more important than any other step. Because of where we live, this warm weather is an absolute paradise for fleas and other pests. They grow and thrive here, and it’s all we can do to keep them from invading where we live. Consistency means that you have to make and keep a schedule of treatment for your pet, your home, and your yard. Once you have it set, it’s not hard to add it to the chores that we all have to do.

Keeping fleas off of your pet, and out of your home and yard, means that these fleas will not be feeding on you and your loved ones! I hope this article helps you get a handle on any flea issues you might have. Of course if you have questions, stop in and ask our staff, we’re happy to help.

  • For dirt areas and landscapes, we recommend Hi-Yield’s Garden, Pet and Livestock Dust. This is an effective overall yard treatment that can be applied to control fleas, ticks, and more.
  • If you prefer a spray, we can also recommend Shell’s Natural Cedar Oil. It is all natural and made from cedar, which is well known for its bug repelling capabilities. Applying the oil to your yard also controls fleas, biting flies, and mosquitoes too! And it has a great scent too. Best of all, cedar oil is safe for pollinators when used as directed, and also safe for your pets!

Additional Information

Here’s some articles I’ve written that are available on our website about pests:
Flea Article – has more information about fleas themselves, what we sell to treat for them, and additional helpful tips on flea control in your environment!
Grasshopper treatment FAQ/Nolo Bait™– this is for a different kind of pest, large grasshoppers that eat your prized landscape and garden plants can be treated organically, safe for children, pets, and friendly pollinators 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.