THE FRONT-YARD FARMER
HOW TO GROW VEGETABLES & FRUIT IN NORTH FLORIDA
By Dennis Gilson, The Front-Yard Farmer
THE FRONT-YARD FARMER'S BLOG
STARTED NOW TO GROW SWEET PEAS (ENGLISH PEAS) IN YOUR NORTH FLORIDA
Eating fresh, young sweet peas directly from the garden Ė or better
yet, in the garden Ė is a treat that few people have the opportunity
to experience. Not so for the home vegetable gardener in north
Florida. Sweet garden peas (English peas) grow well here. The key to
success is timing.
Give it a try and discover the true meaning of "garden fresh."
BEANS HARVESTED, CARROTS AND BEETS NOW PLANTED
ďI feel sorry for people that have to buy produce at the supermarket. It really looks awful,Ē my wife said yesterday, after returning home from grocery shopping.
There are a lot of good reasons to grow your own vegetables and fruit. The low quality of produce found at supermarkets is perhaps the one that led me to become a front-yard farmer.
This past weekend the harvest from my front-yard farm included 5 pounds of Flavor Sweet green beans. I canít remember having snap beans in the garden this late in the year but our mild weather and the use of row covers made it possible this season. We have been having green beans with our dinner every night since we picked them -- and I canít get enough. Green. Fresh. Tasty. No one has ever bought beans as good as these at a supermarket!
With the beans harvested, it made room in the garden to plant beets and carrots. I planted Nantes Half Long carrots and Detroit Dark Red beets. In north Florida, root crops like carrots and beets do best in raised beds. My raised beds are not available now so I mounded up soil in my front-yard garden to make a raised double row that is 5 inches high, 24 inches wide and 13 feet long. I planted one row each of carrots and beets.
I soaked the beet seeds for a couple of hours before planting to help them germinate more quickly. And I will keep the soil evenly moist over the next few weeks. Both the beets and carrots should respond well to the moisture.
In about a month I will make a second raised double row and plant another row each of carrots and beets to extend the harvest.
I will eventually thin the carrots to 3 inches and the beets to 4 inches. I will use a small pair of scissors to remove the seedlings I am thinning out by snipping them off at ground level.
Iíll harvest the carrots at various stages as they grow, picking one or two at a time to add to salads. I will harvest the beets when they are about the size of a golf ball; thatís when they are most flavorful.
How is your garden coming along? Do you grow a winter garden, spring garden, or both? Iíd love to hear from you. Tell me what you are growing now or plan to grow this spring, the size of your vegetable garden and where you live. If you have a tip or some tried and true advice you would like to pass along, please do that too! Reaching me is easy -- just use the contact form.
THE KEY TO BECOMING A SUCCESSFUL VEGETABLE GARDENER
A reader from Weeki Wachee, Florida (it's north of Clearwater), writes:
I have for quite some time felt the Lord Jesus telling me to plant a garden, and I have been fighting him, but today for some reason here I am. So I ask, what is the very first thing I would need to do? I have only planted flowers, and Iím not too good at that. I have my spot picked out in my backyard, however there are several trees that my husband does not want removed. Can I plant around them? I have a ton more questions but I better stick with step one. Thank you for your time. God Bless. Dina
I believe the real key to successfully growing your own vegetables is desire. After that, it comes down to timing and selection Ė what to plant and when.
Step 1- Determine what you want to grow. A vegetable gardening guide for your part of the state can be found here. It lists the vegetables that grow in Florida, the best varieties for our part of the world, plant and row spacing, when to plant for best results and how to prepare your garden for planting, among other things. For north Florida, readers can refer to my vegetable gardening guide on this page.
Next, prepare the soil. You will want to remove anything growing there now. If you have grass growing there, spray it with Round Up or a similar product and dig it up after it has died. Work in some organic material such as compost, dried leaves or lawn clippings. Composted cow manure, which is widely available, and a little peat moss, work as well. A general rule of them in Florida is to put down a 2 inch layer of organic material on top of the soil and then use a shovel or tiller to mix it in to a depth of about 6 to 8 inches.
Another option is to build raised beds.
You should wait 3 to 4 weeks before planting anything in your newly prepared garden, so you have to plan ahead.
You can have success growing vegetables near trees so long as you get at least half a day of sunlight on your garden and the roots of the trees do not interfere. Also, the closer you are to the trees the more they will compete with your veggies for water and nutrients, so you may need to watch for that.
If you prepare the soil as you should, choose veggies that grow where you live and plant them at the right time, you will be well on your way to success.
A great resource for Florida vegetable gardeners is Vegetable Gardening in Florida. The 135-page book includes detailed descriptions of every crop grown in Florida and plenty of good Ďhow toí information. Color photographs help the gardener in identifying vegetable disorders and pests. The cost is $16.95 and it can be ordered online at http://www.ifasbooks.com. Ask for a copy for Christmas!
GREAT GIFT IDEA FOR VEGETABLE GARDENERS
It was 10 years ago. Christmas Day 1998. Among my assortment of gifts was a non-descript, somewhat dull looking 10-year gardenerís journal. A present from my beautiful wife. It was not my favorite gift. Not by a country mile. And, while my wife always warns me that Iím asking for it, Iím certain I never asked for a gardenerís journal.
By the way, on this day in 2007, I bought a new coffee maker. One of those Black & Decker ones that mounts under a cupboard. It replaced the same model I purchased on December 14, 2006, a Thursday.
Anyway, after I unwrapped that gardening journal, I knew instantly that I would never use it. After all, whatís a guy like me supposed to write in there?
On this day in 2006, a Wednesday that saw a morning low of 39 degrees in Niceville, I harvested the sweet potatoes that still remained in my front-yard garden. On this day in 2005, I harvested 16 pounds of sweet potatoes and 6 pounds of green beans. In 2003, we attended the local Christmas Parade. The day was cold and windy but we had a great time. A year before that on this day, we began harvesting the kumquats growing in the back yard.
Of course, the journal did have some nifty, useful looking pages -- like those that help you keep track of what you plant and when, and the amount you harvest. A written record like that could prove valuable for planning how much to grow in future seasons.
On this day in 2001, I gave my youngest son his first Hardy Boyís book. In 2000, my wife ordered a special Christmas tree from a place up north called Fruit Haven Nursery (800-336-5594), and we were putting the house back together after having a new ceramic tile floor installed -- a job that was finished the day before.
Upon further inspection of the journal, I found some handy pages in there that could help me keep track of the growth of my fruit trees, and other pages to record insecticide and disease control applications.
Thatís pretty good stuff. And maybe, I thought, I could occasionally find something to jot down in the daily journal part.
On this day in 1999, it was sunny and mild, there were big bombs being dropped on the Eglin reservation and we began to harvest the first tangerines that were growing on the small Dancy tangerine tree I had planted on April 6 of that same year (the tree was 56Ē tall then with a trunk girth of 3.25Ē. Our harvest that year was 24 tangerines).
On this day in 2008, I asked my much-loved for only one gift this Christmas: Another 10-year Gardenerís Journal. The one she gave to me in 1998 is full up.
LOCALLY GROWN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES FOR GOOD HEALTH
Far too often we read about produce and other foods that are contaminated and pose a health risk. When my family, friends and I enjoy the fruit and vegetables from my front-yard garden and orchard, we not only enjoy the fresh flavor and wholesome goodness that only comes from eating homegrown foods, we also enjoy peace of mind: I donít use harsh chemicals and everything in my garden is grown and handled in a sanitary manor. And with loving care, I hasten to add!
In fact, the veggies and citrus I am harvesting now have not been treated with any chemicals at all. My fall vegetables have had little pressure from pests, so I have not sprayed them with any insecticides. The same is true this year for all of my citrus trees.
You donít have to eat produce grown half a world away from north Florida, under conditions that you know nothing about.
Be a part of the solution. Buy and eat only in-season fruits and vegetables. Seek out locally grown produce. Grow and eat your own fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Encourage your friends to grow what they eat. You can even partner with other local growers to share each otherís harvest, thereby increasing the variety of fresh fruits and veggies available to each of you.
If you have never grown fruits and vegetables in north Florida, donít be afraid to give it a try. I will help you to be successful. The same is true if you have tried in the past but have not had much success. Come back to this page often. In addition to updating my blog with useful information, I will be regularly posting articles describing how to successfully grow specific fruits and vegetables in north Florida.
Believe me, if I can be a successful north Florida front-yard farmer, so can you!
Days are getting shorter and nights are getting colder, but that does not stop front-yard farmers in north Florida.
This month I will be planting carrots, beets, cabbage, lettuce and onions. My December harvest will include green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, oranges, tangerines, lemons and kumquats. If you are not yet a front-yard farmer, itís not too late to begin in 2008!
I have already planted most of the onions I intend to grow in my front-yard garden but I have a set of Texas Grano onions arriving by mail this week (I could not find them locally). They will go into a prepared bed as soon as they are delivered. I will be planting carrots, cabbage and beets this coming weekend. I would have done so this past weekend but I donít yet have the garden space available. I will have after I take out the green beans, which I will do following one more harvest this week.
I already have lettuce and cabbage growing in the garden. I am making additional plantings to extend the harvest.
Here are some of the cool season vegetables that can be planted this month in north Florida: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley and radishes.
Lettuce planted this month will have to be protected when temperatures dip into the 20s. Onions are best planted by mid November but those set out in December should still develop medium to large bulbs by May.
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VEGETABLES FOR NORTH FLORIDA: