POSTED  JUNE 2, 2011


This is the time of year dedicated vegetable gardeners live for in north Florida: the beginning of the warm weather veggie harvest. A time when we begin to reap what we have sown during the cool days of late winter and early spring.


After weeks and months of carefully nurturing our crops, gardeners are being richly rewarded with nutritious, delicious homegrown vegetables. Garden fresh vegetables at a fraction of supermarket prices. Of course, vegetables this fresh and fussed over are not available in any market at any price!


My family is enjoying big yields of summer squash, cucumbers, sweet peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. The sweet corn growing in my backyard is silking now and the winter squash in my front-yard garden is nearly oven ready. Our Sweet Charlie strawberries (which were big and extra sweet this year) have already been replaced with sweet potatoes, which will be harvested in the fall.


Diva Cucumber growing in Niceville, FL.  Photo by Dennis Gilson.
A Diva cucumber growing in my front-yard
garden in May.


The bush beans and pole beans I planted in mid April are just beginning to produce pods. I purposely planted them later in the season so the initial harvest was not at the same moment as my other crops. This way, we can eat more of our vegetables fresh from the garden, while they are peaking in flavor and goodness.


Succession planting, or sowing seeds at intervals of two to four weeks, is a wonderful way to enjoy fresh vegetables over a longer period of time. For example, I planted sweet corn three times, each separated by two weeks, and I planted cucumbers and squash three times: February, March and April.


For the time being, and for several weeks to come, we’re living in vegetable paradise.


Happily, my garden (and hopefully yours) has needed little in the way of insecticides because pressure from insects has been pretty light. But, like kids looking under sofa cushions, we’re bound to see some change.


Before long, our veggies will have more bugs than a picnic lunch.


These uninvited guests arrive with big appetites and a craving for ripening, warm weather veggies. Their favorites are whatever we’re growing.


Some of these pests just belly up to the table and munch away (to their heart’s delight, if they had hearts).  Others bore into vegetables, eating their way through them and leaving them, well, less appetizing. Many are piercing/sucking insects, which insert a needle-like appendage into maturing vegetables, often leaving the fruit looking bruised, oddly colored or misshapen.


We can’t prevent insects but we can control them. Simply check your vegetables daily for pests or signs of pests – damage or poop they have left behind from the night before. When you see signs of these hungry intruders, spray with a low-caution rated insecticide, such as Bayer Advanced for vegetables or Sevin. 


I like to spray in the evening, when blooms have closed, winds are light and bugs are eager for their supper.


Seven to 10 days later, you’ll need to spray the same vegetables again. This time to control the offspring hatching from the eggs left behind by your former garden guests.


Both Bayer Advanced and Sevin have the lowest caution rating available. They are fast acting and break down quickly.  Always follow label directions.


Yes, it really can be that easy to control most insects if your applications are timely. On the other hand, if your plants are left unprotected, the best case scenario is you will have a lower yield and perhaps less desirable veggies. Worst case scenario is plant death.


The same holds true for disease. Once it takes hold, it can greatly reduce the vigor and yield of your crops. But unlike pest control, the best way to control most diseases in plants is to treat them for it shortly before you expect it to occur.


Most of the common vegetable diseases in north Florida, such as white powdery mildew and black spot, can be treated effectively with garden fungicides. I prefer products which use a copper soap as the active ingredient. I commonly use it on squash and cucumbers, and when needed on some varieties of tomatoes and beans. Once I start using it, I apply it regularly.


Bayer is now offering a copper soap fungicide which is readily available at the DYI stores. As with all garden products, follow label directions to the letter when using.


No matter how much attention is given to disease and pest control, most of the vegetable plants growing in our gardens are not likely to remain healthy and productive all summer long. Many are meant to have short life cycles; others simply can’t continue to stand up to the summer heat and humidity. As they weaken, our plants become even more susceptible to pests and disease.


Don’t despair, though.


One of the joys of gardening in north Florida is the opportunity to plant most warm weather vegetables again in mid to late August for harvest in the fall. Since our planting beds need to be made ready beforehand, the old crops need to go in order to make room for the new ones, anyway.  




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