AUGUST 3, 2009

Our sandy soil will fool you.  It does not need a complete makeover to make it suitable to grow the fruits and vegetables that we commonly grow in North Florida. 

The soil in my yard, probably like the soil in yours, is little more than sand.  If I had a soil analysis done, Iím sure nutrients would be as scarce as Obama supporters in Okaloosa County. 

But that does not mean my vegetable garden wonít flourish.

In most instances, all it takes to make our North Florida sandy soil suitable for vegetables is to spread a two to four inch layer of compost -- or just dry leaves and grass clippings -- over the top of the soil, and then work it in with a shovel to a depth of six to eight inches.  Let it sit and breakdown in the soil for three weeks.  Work in some fertilizer before you plant and continue to side dress plants with fertilizer as they grow, removing weeds so they do not compete for nutrition.  

Most vegetable plants will be harvested or live out their usefulness before they drain all of the nutrients from your amended soil.  Before you plant again, you just add another two to four inches of organic material to feed the soil.  It really is that simple. 

If I donít have my own compost or leaves, I buy composted cow manure to mix into the soil. 

It can be a big chore to work in organic material when you have a large garden to tend.  To make it more manageable in my garden, I only prepare the soil in the garden areas or rows that I will be planting in the coming three weeks.  Because I often separate plantings by two or three weeks, I never have a large amount of soil prep at any one time.  I generally only amend those areas of the garden that I am actually planting, not the space between rows.

If you donít have enough trees in your yard to provide you with leaves for composting, it does not mean you have to buy compost.  Instead, become a ďleaf ranger.Ē  Leaf rangers ride the streets of our neighborhoods looking for, and taking home, bagged leaves left on the curb for trash collection.  The season gets underway again this fall.    

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-- Charissee from Crestview writes:
Hi! I live on the south side of Crestview. We have very sandy soil. My two girls (5 & 8) and I have decided we want to plant a veggie garden this fall. Since this is our first time planting, I was hoping you could suggest a couple of crops to grow in our small garden (approx 15'x25') that are pretty fool proof. We are super excited and want to be successful.

Thanks for your email and for reading my blog.  You have a lot of fun times ahead gardening with your daughters.  Getting them interested in vegetable gardening at such early ages will benefit them the rest of their lives. You probably want to include a tomato plant in your garden.  I suggest Amelia because it is disease resistant and does not get too big.  Bush beans are a good choice because they grow quickly and are easy to tend to.  Broccoli is another easy vegetable to grow with few pests that bother it.  You can find Amelia tomato and broccoli transplants at a local garden center.  Plant the bush beans from seed.  You should plant the tomato as soon as you can this month.  The beans and broccoli can be planted towards the end of the month or next month.

-- A reader writes:
What time of year can we expect pears to be ready for canning?

If you are growing pears in North Florida, most of the varieties commonly grown here are ready for harvest sometime between about late August and late September.  The Hood pears that I once grew generally ripened here in Niceville by mid September.  As you probably know, most pears that are grown here are hard pears, so they never get soft.  They sure make great pear sauce and pear butter, though!  Good luck with your canning and thanks for visiting my blog.

-- Susan from Santa Rosa Beach writes:
I read your blog about fertilizing and would like some more information if possible.  I know our soil is probably classified as muck.  The recommendation is for 0-12-20 fertilizer, but where might I find that? Another website also suggests liming to balance out the acidity and provide micro nutrients.  Are there any specific products best for that?   I also followed your recommendation for Willhite Seed Co. whom I found to be very courteous and knowledgeable.  I placed my order on Monday afternoon and my seeds arrived this morning (Wednesday)!  Wow!  I didn't even have to pay shipping!  The seeds are nicely packaged also.  Just as a side bell pepper plants were doing horrible until I scratched in some bone meal around them and mulched them with pine straw.  Now they are going crazy!  Thanks for taking the time to share so much wonderful information and beautiful pictures!

As far as the fertilizer goes, I'm not sure where you might find that around here.  It is difficult to find anything other than basic fertilizers and garden supplies locally.  Perhaps a smaller nursery or Ace could order it for you.  Are you sure that's what you need?  If you have not already done it, you should take a soil sample to the cooperative extension service and have them analyze it.  The service costs very little.  They will analyze your soil and tell you exactly what to add and how much to add to your soil to make it just right.  Just give them a call and they will tell you how to collect a sample.  I'm pleased to hear you had a good experience with Willhite Seed Company.  So did I.  I like their packaging and the quality of their seeds.  Seeds of Changee is another great place for seeds.  Thanks for sharing your experience with bone meal on peppers.  I'm on my way out to my front-yard garden to give that a try -- my pepper plants could use all the help they can get!

-- Dana from Live Oak writes:
So excited to have just found your website!  The problem with my tomatoes (as well as most other veggies in my garden) is leaves turning black (probably is Fungus, but could be PM).  It kills everything.  So this year, I built boxes to foil nematodes, mixed mountains of dirt from Miracle grow/compost/vermiculite and aged manure, and started all over again.  Much work and money later, everything still has fungus.  When I built the boxes I put in irrigation by running small soaker hose over the soil and under grass clippings, so leaves do not get wet except from dew and humidity.  Do you have any other ideas or shall I just give up! 

Thanks for your email -- I'm excited you found the site, too!  I'm sorry to hear about about your trouble with your tomatoes.  Definitely don't give up!  If your plants have a fungus, you can treat them with a fungicide.  Next time you plant you could use it routinely to prevent the fungus.  But honestly, I'm not sure fungus is the problem.  I'm thinking your veggies may just have wet feet.  I'll bet your potting mix really holds water well, especially with the topping of grass clippings.  Your tomatoes and other veggies could simply be getting too much water.  Make sure your containers are draining well and allow the soil to dry out more between waterings.  You might want to stop the soaker hose method and just give a good watering every two or three days.  Good luck, I hope this helps.

-- Jennifer From Dothan, AL writes:
Wow!  Thank you so much for taking the time to do your website, it is wonderful!  I am a new gardener in Dothan, AL (only my second season) and I have a quick question for you, if you don't mind.  My yellow squash and cucumbers were doing great, but in the past 2 weeks I have noticed holes in them, and today, saw the culprit...a little green worm.  Can you tell me the best way to treat this, I prefer more natural methods but am not ashamed to say I am desperate enough to take any measure.  Also, I have the hardest time controlling powdery mildew.  I have been using Plant Guardian from Gardens Alive, but it seems to be a never ending battle. Thank you in advance.

Thanks for your email and for visiting my site.  For those little worms, try a Bacillus thuringiensis product like Thuricide. Apply it in the evening about once a week and after rain.  It's a natural product.  If that does not work for you, Sevin most certainly will.  Just follow label directions.  Don't spray the blossoms (save the bees!).  I don't think there is anything that will keep powdery mildew away but I do have pretty good luck with controlling it with the Plant Guardian Bio-fungicide and the copper-based Soap Shield from Gardens Alive.  I alternate them.  I also regularly remove the most affected leaves. Good luck with your garden!


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