It’s getting to be that HOT time of year! But really, I’ve not seen it so MILD as it has been this year (2020) this late in the year! Some parts of our country had SNOW just a week ago, and here in Central Florida we had temperatures in the 60s in MAY! It’s really been a special Spring season this year. I hope you’ve been outside enjoying is as much as possible.
I don’t know about you but my garden is doing pretty well!
I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you pictures from my garden, what I’ve been up to, and some of the interesting thing’s I’ve seen and done. I haven’t even gotten around to planting everything I wanted to – Coronavirus stole most of my free time and energy this Spring trying to make sure we had our store open to serve you – but I’m enjoying what I do have, and stuff from Winter/Spring is not bolting as quickly because of the cooler temperatures.
I did plant a lot more flowers than usual this year, and the bees and butterflies are loving it. I planted a lot of wildflowers as well, and that patch hasn’t bloomed yet, I think it will have to get a bit hotter to make that really thrive. Some of the Florida Native wildflowers I planted never germinated, so will have to try again. Hey, even us garden writers have failures!!
Right now, my sweet potato slips are going very strong – great young vines developing right now that I’ll be attempting to train to climb my hog panel trellis (it’s like herding cats…really). Some of the ones that get a little unruly I clip and root to give to friends and neighbors. If you have lots of leaves already, you can use some of the really young tender leaves in recipes like you would spinach (great tip for you foodies out there!).
The vines that are already climbing the trellis are from a slip that I found growing on my counter and stuck in the ground in January. Yes, that’s right, all that is from ONE slip. Sweet potatoes LOVE Florida. Did you know that they are part of the same family as morning glories? That’s why they have those pretty purple flowers!
Speaking of potatoes, and flowers, my regular potatoes made flowers – I usually miss them when they bloom but I happened to get pictures this time. I have a row each of Red Pontiac, White Kennebec, and Yukon Gold, and the flowers bloomed on a couple of my Red Pontiac plants.
Potatoes are part of the nightshade family, and you can see the relation to other nightshades like eggplant and tomatoes in the shape of the flowers and the stalks. It’s amazing how similar they all are structurally! I’m hoping to see the tomato-like “fruits” happen after the flowers are spent. If I see them I’ll be sure to snap a picture and share it on our social media page. No, you can’t eat those fruits from the potato flowers – they’re usually poisonous.
Something has been stealing my pigeon peas…I got a good 2 rounds of harvest from my one pigeon pea “tree” and I get flowers on the tree, and haven’t seen any peas since. I do, however, see pods on the ground…so it’s likely squirrels. They’re robbing me of my pigeon peas and rice dinners…not happy about that. I did plant some more pigeon peas, so When those grow up maybe I can get some harvested before they all get eaten by the tree rats.
I still have carrots and a cabbage left from the winter…probably going to pull all of them out here pretty soon and make way for more cowpeas in that bed. I’ve been planting a lot of marigolds to help keep the bad pests away, and it definitely seemed to help my cabbages! Plus that bed is faltering in it’s nitrogen content – some of the plants that do grow are runts, so it’s time to plant beans so that the nitrogen can get fixed in the soil. I’ll probably have to get some Shell’s 3-3-3 organic into that bed to help the beans and cowpeas along a little bit. I try not to use too much fertilizer at all if I can help it through crop rotation, but sometimes you just have to help nature along a little bit!
I also planted a few Moringa seeds that I picked up from a lovely couple at one of our Seed Swaps, but only 3 of the 12 germinated. I’m doing everything I can to hang on to those seedlings, I really want some Moringa trees! It’s a great superfood, and nearly everything on the tree is edible!
One of the most asked questions we get at the store is “What should I plant right now?” Normally if you’re in the store we hand you one of our garden guides, which has a handy-dandy planting chart on one side and advice for the gardening chores to do this month on the other, and send you on your way with whatever products you came in for that day. This article from last year goes a little deeper, and even has some other great links inside it. Do check it out when you get a chance.
I could keep writing about my garden – I love it so much – but I will stop there for now. My garden is my place to take out frustration (very satisfying pulling weeds, and hand-tilling the soil), get some sunshine and fresh air, and see beautiful things. All in my own back yard. I’m happiest when I’m out there, hanging out with the dogs, working on a project with my fiance, or just sitting and relaxing on the swing.
I hope you’ve made your own beautiful place. If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?
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!!
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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:
Knowing how your garden is oriented in relation to the sun. I drew the Compass Rose on the diagram so that I could remember.
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!).
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!
Special notes for things that I need to remember are included – see the upper right of the image.
Number the larger beds so that you can refer to them easily in notes.
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.”
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.