I think the Fall is my favorite season to garden. The anticipation of cooler weather is an obvious bonus after the super-hot Summer. But I think for me it’s more that “we can do this because of where we live” aspect of it. Much of our country will be way too cold to sprout anything by the end of this month (could you imagine?), and we can plant seeds in November and they sprout. It actually amazes and fascinates me.
Anyway, this week in the Blog I wanted to talk about a couple of topics for Best Fall Crop Success. Specifically, how Starter Plants can help you with that success.
Best Fall Crop Success Tip #1: Succession Planting
Have you heard the term Succession planting? It’s the idea of not planting all of your seeds/plants all at the same time, so that you can extend your harvest time over weeks instead of all the plants bearing crops all at the same time.
So, to make this happen, your plantings would have to be spaced apart in time. One way to do succession planting is to start some seeds and starter plants at the same time. The starter plants are more advanced, and will bear their fruits/vegetables before the plants that will come from the seeds. This will give you two distinct harvest periods, which is good!
But you can do even better, extending your harvest even longer. This requires you to make a schedule of seeding every 7-15 days for the same crop. Some of the factors to consider in the schedule include: time of year, germination time, length of time to harvest, if it’s one harvest or several from the same plant. Honestly, it’s a game of experimentation.
For instance, if you know that you can’t possibly eat a dozen tomato plants worth of tomatoes all at the same time, then you could plant four seeds today, 2-4 more in a week, 2-4 more the week after that, etc., until you get to the 12 plants you wanted initially. This works really well when you are seeding in seed cells to transplant into the ground later – it’s easier to see your plants sprouting, keep count of what’s planted, and track your planting dates. (A garden journal is also very handy to track).
Have I covered the idea of Succession planting well here? If you have questions, let me know.
Best Fall Crop Success Tip #2: Starting with Starters
When someone is a beginner gardener – like REALLY a beginner – or just has a super-busy schedule, but still wants to dedicate a little time to fresh air, sunshine, and getting their hands dirty to grow their own food, I recommend starting your garden with Starter plants.
Starter plants from our store arrive strong and healthy. They are ready to pop into the ground right away, but have a little wiggle room if you pick them up on Tuesday morning but you can’t plant them until Saturday morning (with proper watering and light, mind you…no plant is bulletproof!).
We also don’t order plants when it’s challenging to grow them. You won’t see us carrying lettuce in July, because it’s too hot here. That’s one of the ways we help you here at Shell’s – we don’t bait you with plants that won’t thrive in the wrong seasons that will waste your money and time. Questions? Just ask.
When you grow from Starters, you’re skipping the uncertainty of the germination period of seeds. Some seeds can be quite finicky, depending on what you’re trying to grow. Your lifestyle determines if you have the time to deal with them. Some folks just like the certainty of Starters. It’s already germinated. It’s ready to grow into food after transplanting. Done.
Speaking of transplanting, I wrote an article with Transplanting tips in it last Fall that you might find useful. It’s here, take a look!
Also, the easiest gardening I’ve ever done has been in the EarthBOX. Once it’s planted, there’s no weeding, no mess, no fertilizer schedule. All you have to do is water the box through the watering tube on the corner, and you get great growth and harvests. Easy because you don’t even need to have a yard to have fresh produce – a balcony or porch with South, SouthEast, or West exposure will do just fine. We have 3 models of EarthBOX in multiple colors to choose from. If you want to know more about them, stop in and ask us! We’re happy to help.
Best Fall Crop Success Tip #3: Choose the Right Plants for Fall
It’s amazing the number of times that folks are looking to plant things that aren’t suited for Fall growing here in Florida. That list is pretty small, mind you – you can grow nearly everything in the Fall here. Some crops are more successful than others this time of year, that’s all we’re saying.
So, to help with that, at the store we have a Garden Guide that gives you an idea of what to plant when – as of right now, it’s available in-store only!! Worth the trip in my opinion!
Each month on our social media feed we also share the UF IFAS illustrations with similar information. Those posts cover all of Florida – and the Shell’s Garden Guide is specific to our climate here in Central Florida. We’ve just distilled it down a little further. They’re both great guides. Here’s the September UF IFAS illustration if you want to look at it.
Best Fall Crop Success Tip #4: Consistency
If you asked me the one thing that makes people give up on gardening, it’s that they plant all their seeds and starters and everything, and then just let their garden fend for itself. And their garden fails, in one or several rather spectacular ways. After that they convince themselves they have a black thumb and never try again.
Don’t be that person. There’s a method to our madness – promise.
What most would-be gardeners don’t see is the consistent work that their gardens take to maintain. They see the successes posted on Facebook, in Better Homes & Gardens, and all the other bright shiny moments in the lives of other gardeners, without knowing the gritty, dirty, hot, sweaty, frustrating, weed-pulling, soil-amending, full-on effort that actually is gardening.
How do you find the way and the time to balance your obsession with plants with all your other responsibilities? First and foremost, you have to dedicate the time and effort. It has to be a decision you make that is non-negotiable. Then, put it in your schedule. Even if it’s just 5 minutes during the weekdays and 20 minutes on the weekend days, put your time and effort into it. Get some help, and share the spoils.
You’d be amazed what you can accomplish in a CONSISTENT pattern of gardening in 5 minutes a day.
Think of it this way – if you did a solid 5 minutes of all out “Squats-til-you-drop” EVERY SINGLE DAY – how strong would your glutes be after a year? Solid, right? And it’s just 5 minutes of your time.
Side note on this topic: One of my favorite books in the whole world right now is The Compound Effect by Darren J. Hardy. I’ve read it, and listened to it on audio, at least 10 times in the last 2 years. It’s a great reminder that small purposeful actions done consistently over time yield the greatest results – and it’s so successful because so many others don’t do it Success is easy. Doing what it takes to make that success is the hard part because we as humans are NOT consistent. It’s human nature.
Anyway – those are my best tips for success this Fall in your garden!
Gardening is often a frustrating love. But when you hit the jackpot, gosh, there’s no better feeling than eating what you’ve grown with your consistent toil and hard work. And, I can guarantee, nothing more delicious.
Another quick tip – no matter your failures, look for the lessons. Failures happen so we can learn and do better.
There’s no greater education than totally messing up. But only if you WANT to learn from it. Which you should, because it’s the only way to make sweetness from the sour.
We are gearing up for Fall growing season here in Florida. If you’ve been following our social media then you know that to be true. August is Fall Seed planting month, so if you want some tips for seed planting in fall, take a look at last week’s blog: Florida Fall Gardening Starts NOW! for more on that.
This week, while you might be making your garden plans, I thought it would be fun to mention Five Fun Florida Fall Crops to consider planting this year, in no particular order.
Fun Florida Fall Crop #1: Winter Squash
Winter Squash comes in many shapes, sizes and colors, and here in Florida the fall is a great time to plant them. As the weather cools down you’re going to want to have these lovely squash on hand to roast for dinner, to make soups (see my Butternut Squash soup recipe in this blog post: Delish Dishes From The Backyard).
Winter squash is, in my opinion, easier to grow in the cooler months, because there’s a lessening threat to the vines from insects. You still have to watch for cutworms and other such beasties but when it does finally cool off, they usually go dormant.
Since I mentioned vines, most of the winter squash varieties do grow on vines, so having some sort of trellis system is very important for these lovely things. If you want some guidance on some trellis-like structures, take a look at the blog from about a month ago on structures you can build in the garden: Useful Garden Structures You Can Build. I specifically dream of a hoop trellis that I can walk under and pick these lovelies from a comfortable position – standing!
Fun Florida Fall Crop #2: Broccoli/Broccolini/Broccoli Raab
Broccoli is so delicious. I eat it as much as possible. When I grow it myself it’s an extra special treat!
There are several different varieties of veggies from the broccoli family, and all of them are exciting and delicious. Everyone has had the large heads of broccoli from the grocery store, but have you had the ones that are kinda like broccoli and asparagus had a baby? Long and thin stalks, with broccoli flowers at the ends, broccoli raab and broccolini are delicious and nutritious too. In many ways, they’re easier to cook too!
All of the broccolis like cooler weather, so we can plant them in Fall, Winter, and very early Spring here in Florida. Right now, they will germinate fast in the warmer weather, but as they get around to creating their flowers (the broccoli heads that you eat are actually lots of little flowers buds!) it will be cool enough that they won’t bolt too quickly (the yellow flowers bloom).
Did you know that broccoli is in the same family as cauliflower, cabbage, canola (aka rapeseed), kale, bok choy, kohlrabi, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts? Family Brassicaeae is the Cruciferous vegetables! Such an important family for vitamins and minerals, as well as the sulphur compounds they contain which have widely been found to be preventative in diseases such as cancer.
Fun Florida Fall Crop #3: Heirloom Tomatoes
I think that Fall is a great time to plant your Heirloom Tomatoes. I think of Fall as the time when pests will be diminishing as we reach the colder months, and heirloom tomatoes have a better chance of survival to fruiting when there are less pests. This is because they don’t have the benefits of hybridization to give them disease-thwarting characteristics like blight and virus resistance. I also find that bugs LOVE my heirlooms, and there are less bugs in the Fall.
I guess it goes without saying that the more tomatoes I can eat, as many seasons of the year that I can grow them, I’m going to do so. Do you feel the same way about tomatoes as I do?
Fun Florida Fall Crop #4: Kale
Planting Kale is so rewarding. So many nutritious types out there for you to experiment with, including decorative ones! Kale is one of those plants that can be edible AND beautiful, and for that reason alone they will always have a place in my Fall, Winter, and Spring gardens.
Red Russian Kale has beautiful hues of reds and pinks as well as green. Lacinto (Dino) Kale come up dark green with a blue hue, Curly-leaf Kale (like Scots) and Blue Vates that make really fun kale chips and the younger leaves are awesome for wraps or boats (think a leafy taco).
Then there’s the kale that looks like pretty frilly cabbage heads in bright white with green fringe and dusky lavender centers with green fringe; these ornamental kale are usually used along sidewalks to define garden borders with bright beautiful and interesting color for Fall and Winter flower beds and also as the “Chiller” in the “Thriller, Chiller, Spiller” formula of container plantings this time of year.
Fun Florida Fall Crop #5: Rutabagas & Turnips
OK, I cheated here…I put two into one category. But I did it for a reason – mainly because they are so very similar to grow, and to eat. They’re so good! And pretty easy to grow too.
These are cool season root vegetables that can be started in Fall. They’re a direct-sow for the most part. Like most root vegetables, you don’t want to damage the root system by transplanting. Luckily they’re quite easy to sow, and they even space themselves out so you don’t have to do too much thinning. They literally just push themselves apart as they grow (unlike carrots, which you have to thin or they won’t do much – they’re much more delicate).
Rutabaga and turnips are a great low calorie substitute for potato dishes, with lots of fiber. You can mash them, fry them, bake them. I absolutely love making rutabaga and turnip “french fries” in the oven – oil, salt, pepper (or try your fav salt-based steak seasoning!) and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until edges are brown and crispy and the centers are soft. Flip them about halfway through for even browning (it’s not necessary but it can help for presentation if you’re looking to impress). They have a slightly sweet taste but it’s not overpowering, it compliments the salt and pepper very nicely.
A beautiful Florida Fall Garden
OK, there’s my Five Fun Florida Food Crops recommendation to try this year. How many of these made YOUR garden list this year?
In response to the #1 question we get at Shell’s – “what can I plant right now?” – this week’s blog is about what you can do right now to start your Florida Fall Garden.
Florida Fall Gardening Seed Planting
Because we can garden in Florida all year long, it’s hard to sometimes figure out what to plant when. The UF/IFAS guides are very helpful in this. Here’s the August chart from the extension office:
As you can see, August is a great time to start your seeds for Fall. Most everything you can grow in Spring can be grown in Fall. There are exceptions, of course, and we go over that in our “What to Plant in Your Fall Florida Garden” class – coming soon as an online webinar course for social distancing purposes!
Seed Planting – Sow in pots or in the ground?
Another common question is “Where/how should I plant my seeds?”
Well, the best answer I can give is “it depends.”
Some crops cannot be transplanted very easily, and those should be planted directly in the ground (or wherever they’re going to live their lives). Others grow really easily no matter where you’re starting them, and thus can be done in seed trays or pots – or the EarthBOX!
Examples of plants that shouldn’t be transplanted because they damage very easily: carrots, celery, mustards. That said, people have done transplanting with few issues!
Gardening is an adventure – the purpose is to TRY things and see if they work!
What growing medium should I plant my seeds in for any type of gardening?
There’s so many answers to this question. Potting soil works just fine for most people. It’s got good drainage, aeration, and organic material.
Many people really like seed starting or germination mixes as well. These mixes are lighter weight to ensure that the seeds don’t rot and have the best chance of sprouting. Most of them have no soil in them whatsoever, rather they’re made of things like coco coir, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and/or compost.
Do my seeds need fertilizer to be put in the soil/germination medium?
I absolutely LOVE this question. Because the answer is NO. Seeds have everything they need to sprout already inside them – and that makes gardening just a little bit easier.
See that big grey area of the body of the corn kernal? That area is a stockpile of energy that the embryo uses to grow and differentiate into to roots, stems and leaves, and it’s called the endosperm. It uses that until it can grow to the point where it starts its own photosynthesis. Pretty cool, right?
Beginner’s gardening tip: Seeds will need water – not too much! – and warmth to sprout.
Once they have their second/third leaves, then they’re about ready for some extra food when you transplant to help them get through the shock of transplanting.
>>>Don’t know how to transplant? Don’t worry, we’ll be covering that at the beginning of next month right here in the blog! So look out for that.<<<
What is this colored stuff on my seeds?
Some seeds have a coloration coated on their surfaces. The purpose could be one of two things.
The first, and most common in bulk seeds, is a light coating of a water-soluble fungicide. The purpose of this coat is to protect susceptible seeds from rotting due to fungus in the soil before it has time to sprout.
You see, fungus is GREAT to have in the soil for decomposition of your organic materials like leaves, sticks, and compost. BUT, the same fungi that do that magical work can also decompose more fragile seeds before they have a chance to do their thing, decreasing your germination rates significantly.
But don’t worry, those fungicides break down very quickly and don’t have a lasting effect on the local biodiversity and ecosystem. It just gives the seeds a fighting chance. None of the fungicide ends up in the food you’re trying to produce (promise!!).
The other reason to color the seeds are for the purpose of seeing the seeds that you put in the soil. Some seeds are very small and hard to see, so some companies put a harmless coloring on the seeds to make them stand out against the color of the soil. So if you drop one, or plant too many in a hole while you’re gardening, you can find them and put them where they belong.
The other reason to color the seeds are for the purpose of seeing the seeds that you put in the soil. Some seeds are very small and hard to see, so some companies put a harmless coloring on the seeds to make them stand out against the color of the soil. So if you drop one, or plant too many in a hole, you can find them and put them where they belong.
Next Steps: Pick and Plant Your Fall Gardening Seeds
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get you started on your Fall Garden. Get seeds for things that you want to plant.
I like to use seeds for things that are easy to grow. I also like to use them for vegetables/fruits that you can’t often find as a starter plant. Specialty and rare plants, heirloom varieties, and very specific hybrids are just some of the reasons to pick up seeds.
(by the way, starter plants arrive at Shell’s in September…just FYI)
Have a list of seeds you’re looking for, or have extra to trade? Join our Shell’s Garden Community on Facebook and talk to other local gardeners in there to make some swaps! You can also ask questions and get answers from our group members (and me!).
Normally I’d be inviting you to a free Monthly Community Seed Swap, but because of COVID-19 these activities are suspended right now. Of course you can always use the store as a meetup point to make your swaps, we’d love to see you!
I hope this article helps get you motivated to start some seeds for your Fall Garden right now.
I hope this article helps get you motivated to start some seeds for your Fall Garden right now.
Garden Structures are very useful for certain types of vegetables and flowers. These structures we’re talking about today are added to raised beds or EarthBOXes or anything you grow in – or installed just because you want to highlight something in your landscape.
I’ve been thinking about adding some more structures to our garden, and my research led me to writing this blog article. Fall gardening will be starting next month, so it’s a good time to add any structures to your garden that fit into your garden planning for this upcoming growing season.
Usually you see vining plants climbing these types of structures. In fact, that’s what they’re mainly for – keeping vines off the ground. But garden structures have become so much more than functional.
We’re Talking Easy Structures
I’ll go through a few types of structures that are easy to put together out of what you might have laying around….or if you’re not the up-cycling or handy type, then of course they’re available to purchase from vendors locally and on the internet. Or, even better, a local carpenter that might want some small project work would be ideal – and you’ll support a local family when you pay them!
We’ll also talk about some things you might grow on the structures, just to get your mind turning on the topic. I’d love to hear your ideas and see your sketches/photos of structures you have – or want to have – in your garden!
Side note: I’m not a carpenter, so there are no step-by-step building instructions here. This is just for preliminary ideas and inspiration!
Garden Structures: Trellises
I’m going to start with the obvious – trellises. A trellis is usually a vertical lattice that a vine can climb to keep it up off the ground. It can be made from many different materials, such as wood, twine, iron or other metal, pvc, and wire.
Here’s a few examples of some trellises:
Left to right: Cucumbers on the vine growing up a netting trellis; Clematis growing on a wood trellis; Trellis trying to wrangle a small tree; Flowers on a thin bamboo trellis
Trellises can be used to grow many types of vines, from flowers to edibles. They are very common and come in all shapes and sizes!
Raised bed in Mr. Shell’s garden for Sweet Potatoes. The hog panel trellis is at the far end of the bed. There’s a shorter trellis on the close end made of metal – just trying to contain the sweet potatoes’ enthusiasm for the hot Florida weather!
My favorite trellis is one that Mr. Shell built out of a hog panel (a piece of fencing) and some 2″ x 2″ Cypress stakes (above). Right now there are sweet potatoes growing on it.
Garden Structures: Teepees
A Teepee acts like a trellis, but it’s more three-dimensional and provides more space for growing. It also takes up a little more space than a trellis. But it can be a whole lot more decorative, so you get that bonus!
A garden teepee can grow delicious food and be a great place to play for the kids! Bringing your kids into your gardening adventures teaches them where their food comes from! (image from Pinterest)
Many people use Teepees to create a living play-space for their children – you can grow vegetable and flower vines up the teepee stakes and the inside of the teepee will be shady and inviting to play on a hot summer day.
Additionally, you can grow a lot more plants on a single teepee than you can on just a trellis. Look at these diagrams to see what I mean:
Some might say that you can plant pole beans on both sides of the trellis…but I think that defeats the purpose – if the vines are too thick, you lose the airflow that helps keep the leaves fungus free and it decreases easy access to the sun for the leaves, and for the pollinators (who often use visual cues from the flowers to find them).
A teepee is a great way to include your children in your gardening!
Garden Structures: Obelisk
An obelisk is a sort of cross between a trellis and a teepee. It doesn’t have room to sit underneath or inside, but it is 3 dimensional.
Again I’m featuring a post from the Empress of Dirt (empressofdirt.net) about obelisks, because I love all these DIY ideas. Image from Pinterest.
Many ornamental gardeners use these to highlight a particular climbing species in the middle of a flower bed, and it doubles as an architectural piece during the Winter months when a perennial plant might be dormant under the ground, or you may not be growing anything (which would be a shame, here in Florida we can garden all year long!
Obelisks are architecture, art, and practical growing aids. They can be as utilitarian, or as beautiful, as you want them! Check out the Rotary Botanical Gardens! If you click the first picture in this blog (with the blue obelisks) you’ll get a whole photo album of AWESOME obelisks!
Garden Structures: Hoop Trellis
I confess, I’ve always wanted one of these. Usually these are made with PVC that is rigid but flexible enough to be curved over a garden bed. Then you attach wire or netting stretched over the PVC structure to cover the garden bed. Also, a popular choice is cattle panels, which are wire fencing that can bend relatively easily while still being sturdy and strong. Some people make a PVC frame and lash the cattle panels to it, giving the wire panel extra support when they grow heavier crops.
This is an easy hoop trellis made from cattle panels
Vining plants like cucumbers, beans, peas, some squashes, melons, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, etc., can grow over the trellis.
The fruits hang down underneath the “hoop” making them easy to pick (and secure to the frame as they grow if they’re heavy, like cantaloupe, using pantyhose or some other breathable bag tied to the frame).
Squash growing inside the arch, with the leaves above pointed at the sun. The strong wire holds the weight of these hefty squash. Image from gardeningknowhow.com
Additionally, the rest of the garden bed underneath gets dappled shade, which can extend your growing of more fragile crops like herbs and lettuces as it’s getting warmer (like during a Spring planting). The shade extends the time to bolting, but still gives you enough light to grow those crops. Win win!
This is an example of a trellis used for this purpose, same concept, different structure
ProNote: You don’t want the bed underneath to be too long/deep. You’ll need to be able to reach everything planted underneath from the open ends (and it may not be easy to crawl under the hoop unless you make it that way). If you are doing long rows or beds with hoops, make sure you make a “walkway” through the middle at the highest point so you can weed, harvest, and prune.
Garden Structures: Arbor
Arbors are often found covering something with shade, such as gates, patios, and walkways.
Arbors come in all shapes and sizes. This one comes from Pinterest, ProdigalPieces.com (DIY plans)
Normally people plant flowering vines on these arbors like wisteria, passionflower vines, clematis, bougainvillea, roses, jasmine, honeysuckle, and the like.
One of the most popular uses of arbors are for Wisteria vines. Whole weddings are planned around such structures and blooming times. To me, it shows the importance of form and function in the garden!
You can use arbors to define an outdoor living space, make a patio partially shaded (people use a pergola structure for this often, which is a large version of an arbor), or just to add architectural interest to your gateway into your fenced area.
Garden Structures: Towers/Dutch Bucket (Bato Bucket) Systems
Growing towers and Bato Bucket systems are nearly always used for growing edibles such as tomatoes and pole beans, and also multi-ported towers are for lettuces and herbs.
Our friends at Bearss Groves have a Bato Bucket system for their awesome tomatoes. If you happen to see them during growing season(s) they’re really awesome!
These structures combine the place for the growing medium (soil, hydroponic, aquaponic, etc) with the structure to support the plant (see those pulleys hanging from the top wire? They are connected to a wire that goes down to each bucket to support the tomato plants as they grow.
The goal is to grow the most plants in the smallest square footage by taking your growth vertical.
I recently got a look at these Urban Smart Farms while attending Global Pet Expo in Orlando at the OCCC. They were quite impressive and are part of Orange County, Florida’s sustainability initiative. See the video here.
I mention them here because as many of us urban farmers move to growing more on their own land, we will need to make best use of our edible garden spaces, and that usually means growing vertically.
Wrapping it up
I hope that this article has given you some things to think about when deciding on structures for your garden!
Victory Gardens Keep Families Fed! That’s something that might have been heard during the World Wars of the earlier part of the 1900s. But I’m here, bringing it back – because Victory Gardens are as relevant today as they ever were.
We are in a time of fear and uncertainty, to be sure. And the mainstream media is not helping…they’re making more money than ever preying on your fears and insecurities while raking in advertising dollars and paying out BIG bonuses to Execs…oh, wait, that soapbox is for another day. I digress.
This COVID-19 pandemic burst our “first world” security bubble and caused us all to re-evaluate what is truly necessary in our lives, and really look at what we often take for granted: the availability of food.
We hear in the news that farmers are dumping thousands of pounds and gallons of food in the fields because it’s going to waste from the decrease in business of restaurant purchases and more. It surprised even me to learn that dairy farmers (which my family owned a dairy, back in the day) are dumping milk by the truckload, but when I go to the store the milk shelves are empty.
It’s time to take a good look at our food distribution, and what we, as individuals, can do to make it easier for ourselves when a crisis happens. Many areas do not benefit from access to fresh fruits and vegetables at all those areas are called “food deserts” and they are a real problem in the urban areas of the US and it was happening WAY before this pandemic.
One thing I can tell you, living in a hurricane-afflicted state, is that being prepared is everything. And we CAN prepare for what amounts to an agricultural collapse – and a collapse of the food system in general – by being PROACTIVE and growing our own. Providing for our families and putting food on the table in a physical way.
Yes, that’s right – I’m talking about Victory Gardens, the 2.0 version. I’m talking about fresh greens that you snip from your back yard and bring in to wash up for dinner. I’m talking about picking turnips and onions and cabbage and making soup for dinner. Fresh tomatoes, lettuce, radish, and bell peppers for a salad.
It’s not a fantasy. It can be yours, with a little extra and consistent effort.
You don’t even need a yard – there’s this cool thing called the EarthBOX! That’s a story for another day (or for a class! Stay tuned for that announcement soon!). I’ll show you a picture:
Now, I don’t consider myself a “prepper”, like you see on these “reality TV” shows. I think I’m just pragmatic. And I remember how my Dad survived on what he grew and how he bartered fresh veggies for meat, and went fishing and sold fishing worms to feed himself.
I want to know that I can survive on what I can produce myself. And I can. Can you? If not, well, right now we’re all stuck at home with power and internet…so why not learn more about gardening? Or maybe you want to raise chickens? Learn about that! So much better than watching the news.
At Shell’s we’ve always advocated for knowledge of how to grow food – whether it be vegetable or animal – and we’re always up for helping people learn.
We have classes and events specifically for the purpose of education; check out our Calendar of Events(which will be pretty empty until this pandemic has passed! But if you’re reading this AFTER Coronavirus is “over” then you can definitely use this link).
We also have a private Facebook group where people can ask questions about gardening (and even the occasional chicken question!).
We scan the local groups answering questions and pointing out useful products that we carry – hopefully unobtrusively, and always in the name of education.
This willingness to share in the knowledge library that is contained in the minds of our senior staff is why I personally think we will be celebrating our 60th year next year. Our sense of obligation to foster a community of gardeners and urban farmers is one of our greatest strengths as an organization.
Additionally, I believe that one of Tampa’s greatest assets is that when times get rough – we pull together as a giant city-wide team and help each other. #TampaStrong.
So…have I planted the seed of curiosity for anyone considering growing your own food? Do you have questions about Victory Gardens? Contact us today – leave a comment here, or join our private Facebook Group – Shell’s Garden Community – and let’s chat.
I look forward to sharing knowledge…and our community of gardeners has lots to share too!
Today, I’m going to get real, and a little personal, with you.
Today, we’ll talk about that dark shadow that lurks just outside of our visual field. That shadow is most of humanity’s deepest, darkest fears all summed up into one word: FAILURE.
You know, gardening is a lot like life. Some things you do in the garden are great successes, others not so much. Some ideas you have you might be afraid to try, for whatever reason, and other things you find it easy to ‘give it a whirl’, so to speak. Why is that?
I find that the answer is pretty simple: we’re human. Our own thoughts, fears, upbringing, learned habits, and that little voice of criticism in our heads that speaks up when we don’t want it to, actually drive our actions in life, and consequently, in the garden. We do, or don’t, do something because of some emotional and intellectual math equation we do in our heads before we take (or don’t take) action.
As one of my mentors, Darren Hardy, said in his daily success mentorship video that I watched just this morning, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, in order to reach the success you want, you need to “fail faster”. I look at it like coughing when you’re sick: just like you want to get out all that phlegm, you need to get out all that failure so that you’ve learned everything you need to know to succeed out there in the garden dirt and sunshine.
We’re going to make it even more personal now: I’m going to confess my garden sins. Because I want you to know that even though I write blog content for a garden store, and I even teach gardening classes, I’m human. I’m not perfect. I fail often.
I think the hardest thing for me is the consistency of care that cultivating food requires. Life gets in the way, other priorities take hold of my time (for instance, content writing!), and my garden is often left to fend for itself for much longer than I’d like.
Occasionally, the garden actually fails. Utter, epic failure. But much of the time, it does pretty well, I am able to get food from it, and it’s a delicious success.
You might wonder how I can neglect it and still get at least some produce that I want from it. It’s because I’ve failed miserably before, and got nothing at all from my hard work. It was painful, and disappointing, to admit defeat. I’d failed.
I’ll share with you right now how I can (and how you can) build a garden that tolerates a modicum of what I like to call “benign neglect.”
Take a moment to think back to a heart-wrenching failure that you had in your gardening. Just picture it for a moment, in all its painful glory.
OK, ouch, that hurt. But hang on to that hurt for a second, because you don’t want history to repeat itself.
Now, I want you to keep thinking about all the stuff that happened within that failure, because trust me, it was more than one thing. If it helps you, list it out quickly on a scrap paper.
Your list might look something like this: Forgot to water, didn’t fertilize, planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b, weeds got out of control and covered everything.
Next, I want you to take this list, and pick one thing that you can find a solution for quickly and easily.
In this example, I’m going to pick “forgot to water”. I can fix this easily by getting a sprinkler, hose, and a digital water timer. The timer will turn the water on to the sprinkler for a certain period of time every day or other day, and then shut it back off. There. You’ll no longer have to remember to water. As the days get really hot, you might have to adjust the timer, but that’s super easy to do.
Cross that one off the list. You failed, and you fixed it.
Now, pick another one.
Planted lettuce outside in May in Zone 9b. Yep, I’ve done that one. If you wrote it like that on your list, it means that you now know better, but you wanted to tempt fate and see if you could make it work. I totally get it, I get a wild hair sometimes and want to try something that I know will probably not work out, just because. I think we humans need to feel like we can control the uncontrollable…and that fundamental need definitely comes out when we’re playing in the dirt.
But if you just wrote “planted lettuce and it died,” I want you to analyze when you planted it and how you took care of it. Something within the when and the how caused the failure. A good place to start with figuring out why something expired before you think it should have is to look at the planting charts for your agricultural hardiness zone. Also, the UF/IFAS (Extension Office) makes it pretty easy, they’ve published a garden guide online that is really useful. You can also come by the store and we can help you with our garden guides (that are based on the ag university’s chart) and knowledgeable staff.
So, all of that said, as I’ve gone back and reviewed what I did right, and more frequently, what I did wrong, applying what I have learned to hedge my bets in the garden. I’ve changed the way I prep soil. I’ve set up the watering systems to help me in case I can’t get out there. I’ve set aside time a couple times a week (OK, maybe only once a week) to pull baby weeds out of the soil so they don’t take control.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned in gardening is this: I’m comfortable with failure. As much as I love science (I have a biology degree and some medical training), I know that I cannot always beat Mother Nature.
That said, she and I enjoy an understanding. It was built on the backs of many a dead plant. The more I fail, the better my understanding, and thus the greater my successes are when they happen.
Now you know my biggest secret: I fail too. And I’m totally fine with it.
Speaking of failure, have you ever heard of the Failure Museum? It’s in Sweden, and they highlight failures in technology over the years. I invite you to watch their video here: https://failuremuseum.com/ I think you’ll find it entertaining, with a nugget of information that you can apply to your gardening, indeed your life, right away.
I wish you the greatest successes in your Spring garden this year!
Are you having a hard time figuring out how to approach Spring Gardening in our sometimes unforgiving Florida climate?
We are very fortunate to have the warmth that we do, with limited cold snaps, and usually plenty of rain.
But for people who learned to garden where there are climate-based seasons, or who have learned through resources meant for places with actual seasons, it can be so difficult to navigate when to garden in Florida.
And that’s where your local neighborhood Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply can help you.
We’ve been gardening here a long time. Our store has been serving the Tampa Bay area since 1961. Back then we were surrounded by farms growing crops and raising livestock. As those farms have been eaten up by the city, we’ve turned our focus on to growing your own backyard vegetables for your family, and to urban farming.
So, with a base guidance from the UF IFAS program, along with our personal experiences gardening in Central Florida, we’ve got a lot to offer to those who are figuring out planting seasons, like Spring, here in Florida.
Sure, we’ve got a class for that! I hope you’ll join me for that – this class is part 3 of a 4 part series that I’ve been putting together seasonally. We started in Fall 2019, then we had a Winter Class, now this is the Spring class. Of course, there will be a Summer class as well.
In the meantime, though, I’ve got a couple of tips for you right here to get started.
Forget about the First Day of Spring
If you’re waiting until the Spring Equinox to start thinking about planting because that’s what your favorite gardening magazine told you to do, I have sad news for you. In Florida you’re WAY too late for many crops.
By the time the Equinox rolls around, it’s already blistering hot outside, and our wet season will be starting soon, which means your tiny seedlings will be more susceptible to fungus, and heat withering.
In Florida, you can start planting seeds in January (or even mid/late December!) for Spring. Yes, I said December. And January.
Also, our strong and healthy Starter Plants arrive usually right around February 1st at our store – and we plan it that way for a reason. Starter Plants can go in the ground starting in February. You can also plant lots of different kinds of seeds in February.
Is there risk of frost this early in the year? Sure. Some years we get a late nip in the air. But there’s ways to make sure that your seedlings survive, and we can tell you all about how to make sure you’re protected. All you have to do is ask.
Container Plantings are a sensible option for Florida Spring Gardening
We’re here to support you in however you want to grow your veggies, or flowers, or trees, or whatever you’ve got going on. Many people choose to plant in the ground, and that’s totally great!
If you’re planting native plants, you really don’t have to do anything to the soil, they’ll be just fine with what you’ve got.
Ground plantings, like raised beds, or mounds, for things that are not native to Florida take some extra special care in the form of soil amendments and fertilizers. This is because we’re trying to force plants that aren’t used to our sandy soil to grow where they don’t really belong. So, we have to amend the soil and add the nutrients that our soil is missing for them to flourish. With a little prep ahead of time. this is definitely do-able.
BUT…you can better control your plantings using containers. You can mix your own soil, add your own nutrients, protect your plants from soil-borne illnesses, and control their sun, water, and climate, when they are in a container.
As far as containers go, you probably know that we’re Tampa’s Earthbox Authority, and we’re HUGE fans of what the Earthbox can do for the things you want to grow, like vegetables and flowers.
Earthbox makes it SO EASY to grow your own. In fact, we want you to experience the joys of Earthbox so much that we have a class for that!
There are also all manner of sizes of black plastic reusable nursery tubs, galvanized and rubber stock tanks, and all kinds of container planting options available at our store too.
We can show you what you need for all these, and you’ll have great results.
Your Spring Options Are Nearly Limitless Here
Spring Gardening in Florida, starting in January, really allows you nearly limitless possibilities on what you can grow. You can still plant cold-weather crops – it’s still cool enough for lettuces and collards and kale, for example, and you can plant warm weather crops like peppers, tomatoes, okra, and beans too.
Spring planting time is when you can plant and enjoy the most diverse gardens here. So, take advantage of our good fortune. Try some new veggies and flowers. Get creative with containers and raised beds.
We’re here to help you. We can answer questions and give you advice if you run into a problem. That’s what we’re here for.
If you’re reading this in Michigan, you probably think I’m
nuts right now. But where I sit here in sunny Florida, last year at Christmas
is was 80 degress outside. So guess what? Gardening happens in Winter here too!
That means fresh produce from the garden year round. And
that’s great for people who love that fresh-from-the-backyard-harvested-5-minutes-ago
But there are some mistakes you can make in the garden in Florida Winter. Let’s talk about a few so you’re prepared.
Mistake #1: There’s a surprise freeze and you don’t have anything to cover your prized petunias.
This one is pretty simple to avoid — what’s that old Boy Scout motto? Be Prepared!
For Surprise freezes, it’s important to have something on hand and ready to go. I recommend N-Sulate is an awesome product for protecting your crops from the light freezes we may get here (some years we have none, other years we have several, and everything in between).
When used as directed, it is more effective than using old towels and bedsheets, AND it is light enough that it won’t crush young or sensitive plants. So, definitely get some. We have it for you, ready and waiting for you to pick up. And we can make sure you understand how to use this product so that you have the best chances of avoiding frost damage.
Mistake #2: You have no protected place to move your container plants if we do have a freeze.
Trying to move your potted palm into your living room when there’s a freeze coming could present quite a problem, and a mess, for you. But you ran out of room in the garage and don’t know what else to do.
Don’t let that be you!
It’s so important to have an area that you know you can move some of your container plants into in the event of a freeze.
Whether it’s the garage, or a porch, or a greenhouse, make sure there’s a protected space you can put some pots if there’s a freeze coming.
And while you’re at it, secure some help beforehand too, maybe a neighbor where you can make a deal, “I’ll help you move yours if you help me move mine.” No sense in breaking backs, right?
Also, your neighbor might have extra room they’d be willing to let you borrow, you know, for a nice bottle of wine or that awesome appetizer you make with your tomatoes, basil, and some fresh mozzarella. Never be above bartering for help!
So, have a place to put your plants for a freeze. Just in case. You never know when Old Man Winter will take a swipe at us.
Mistake #3: You’ve decided to grow sun-hungry plants this Winter.
Ah, yes, this is a good one!
So, you love tomatoes. You really LOVE them. That’s great, we all need a favorite food (it’s one of mine too).
But did you know that most tomatoes will only reach optimal production with 8+ hours per day of sun? With the shortened amount of daylight in the Winter, as well as the decreased angle of the sun (it’s not high overhead like it is during the summer, it’s more to the South in Winter), your sunlight prospects are usually quite limited during Winter.
Most sun-hungry plants don’t get enough sun in Winter to do much fruiting. That’s why the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Science doesn’t list them as a Winter crop, mainly (the temperature too, but lately, it’s been warm enough).
Now, these sun-hungry WILL grow nice strong stalks and leaves, albeit more slowly, and (BONUS!) with the cooler weather there’s less pests and fungus to contend with.
Many folks have luck planting tomatoes and other plants like it such as eggplants and bell peppers in Winter and then letting them grow strong stems, then they’re ready to start fruiting as we come into Spring when others are just getting their seedlings in the ground.
Of course, you’re gambling with the possibility of a freeze…but hey…worth the risk, right? (And, see #1 and #2 above for help with that).
Just know that those kinds of plants don’t fruit as well this time of year.
There’s the top 3 mistakes we at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply see Florida Gardeners make in the Winter growing season.
Do you want to know more about what you SHOULD plant this Winter in Florida?
This “What to Plant in Your Florida Garden” series is a quarterly class I do seasonally to help people who want to garden in Florida but haven’t quite gotten the hang of what to plant when, and it’s our #1 asked question at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply by our customers. It’s a fun class!
If you moved to Florida but had a great garden up North, this is the class for you. If you’re a Floridian but you were taught to garden by a Northerner, this is also a great class for you.
I hope to see you there!
Until then…keep growing!
P.S. You can always get great gardening tips in my blog, or also from the UF IFAS web resource. Here’s a couple of links for you:
If you’ve been to our store, you know that in our garden amendments section we have LOTS of bags and bottles of stuff with funny names, maybe even funny smells, and not a lot of information written on them. I call it the “Garden Aisle of Mystery,” even in my own store.
I know that this section of our store, or any garden store really, can be kind of intimidating, and I want to fix that! So, I’m writing this series as a reference for you. This is the very first of a “mostly monthly” series I want to do to help you figure out what you might need for your lawn, landscape, and/or garden.
So, I’m going to go “mostly alphabetical” as I name and describe a few items per Episode. As I move forward I will probably do some video snippets to embed here on the website as a useful visual guide. Until then, well, you’re stuck with my writing and pictures. If you want some more quick definitions, check out our Garden Glossary.
DISCLAIMER: Before you read about a product and just guess that your lawn, garden, and/or landscape need something, I urge you to take the necessary proper steps: 1) have your soil tested, either with a test kit or through your local UF IFAS County Extension Office; 2) make sure that your plants really have the issue you think they have before treating with anything. We can help.
Also called Calcific Limestone (which has less magnesium than other ag limestones), Dolomite, Dolomitic Lime, Ag Lime, Garden Lime – Agricultural Limestone is a powdery substance made of pulverized limestone. Limestone is mainly made up of Calcium Carbonate, but can also include Calcium Oxide, Magnesium Oxide, and Magnesium Carbonate.
Agricultural Limestone is used in soil to counteract acidity for plants that need a more neutral or alkaline soil to absorb nutrients. It increased the pH to make the soil more alkaline. Some plants require alkalinity or neutral pH to take up water and nutrients through the root systems. Also, for plants such as hydrangeas, often the pH of the soil dictates what colors the flowers will be.
In vegetable gardening, Agricultural Limestone is used to help combat diseases such as Blossom End Rot. This problem is very common in tomatoes and peppers where the soil does not have sufficient calcium and/or magnesium to complete the transformation of the flower into the fruit.
Blossom end rot is not your friend, make sure you add lime to your beds with veggies!!
Aluminum Sulfate, as with most powdered sulfur compounds, will decrease the pH of soil making it more acidic. This is useful when the soil is already too alkaline for the type of plants you want to plant in a particular place.
Aluminum Sulfate can be used for plants that like acidity, such has roses, blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, and blackberries or raspberries. Also, again with hydrangeas, it will change the color of the flowers. It is an acidifier that doesn’t have to break down to provide the acidity. The pH will change instantly once it’s added to the soil.
This amendment should be worked into the top 6″ of soil with a shovel or rototiller for best results, and if you’re planting a lot of plants that require acidity in an area you can add it to the whole area to instantly provide the acidity the plants will need.
You know on regular bags of fertilizer there’s that 3-digit listing on the front, like 12-6-8 or 3-3-3? That’s your N-P-K indication required on all fertilizers. N = Nitrogen, P = Phophorus, K = Potassium.
Ammonium Nitrate is pretty much straight up Nitrogen. It gives your plants a boost when it’s bloom time and fruiting time. Plants use nitrogen to grow leaves and flowers and fruits.
This is also one of the things that we cannot sell during the June-September fertilizer ban because it will wash out of the soil and into our beautiful Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico during summer rains.
If you’re needing some nitrogen in this form, we’ll have it back on the shelves by October 1. In the meantime we have other organic solutions for you that are not subject to the City of Tampa’s fertilizer ban. Just ask us, we’ll help you out.
Blood meal is exactly what it sounds like. Blood from animals is dried into a powder. It is an excellent source of nitrogen and iron , and works as a soil acidifier too.
It is a dry powder because it is dehydrated, meaning all liquid is removed.
There are alternatives to blood meal, namely alfalfa meal and feather meal, which are also exactly what they sound like – ground alfalfa and ground feathers.
Bone meal is dried and pulverized bones from animals (and/or fish). When used in vegetable gardening it increases the flowering of the plants very quickly.
This is because bone meal is a great source of Phosphorus (the P in NPK), which is necessary to make flowers.
Alternatives to this are soft rock phosphate, urine, and manure. Manure will have to break down before it can offer phosphate, but bone meal, soft rock phosphate and urine all have it immediately available.
I know, I know, you’re thinking “urine, that can’t be right” but I promise, you read it correctly. If you can get over the possible “ick” factor you’re feeling right now, fresh urine is high in nitrogen, moderate in phosphorus and low in potassium and can act as an excellent high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer or as a compost accelerator.
So go ahead, pee in the garden! (C’mon, I had to say it, how often does anyone get to say it?)
Alright, that’s what I’ve got for this blog. I’ll go over more of the items in my Solving the Aisle of Mystery series as we move forward in time, so stay tuned for that.
In the meantime if you have questions about something on our shelves, don’t hesitate to ask.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.