GROWING VEGETABLES, BERRIES & FRUIT TREES IN NORTH FLORIDA
Try no-till gardening for big yields and
After a weekend spent digging in the dirt preparing the garden for the next growing season, my back can be stiffer than a Florida bridge toll. Wouldnít it be fantastic if we could grow healthy, nutritious vegetables in our gardens without tilling the soil and digging in compost season after season? In fact, we can. Many Florida home veggie growers have enormous success with little- or no-till gardening.
The mere thought of growing a productive vegetable garden without first digging and amending the soil is tantamount to blasphemy to many gardening old-timers. Why, plants canít be expected to grow where the soil has not been cushioned for their roots, and amended deeply with organic matter to provide nutrition.
This has been the traditional gardening philosophy, anyway.
Strangely, when I look around, what I see does not support that way of thinking. I see lush vegetation everywhere. Whatís more, oftentimes I have observed vegetables thriving under what seems like unusually harsh conditions.
I have witnessed tomato plants growing from cracks in concrete sidewalks, and kale growing for several weeks even after it was uprooted and tossed on the compost pile. When the weather is nippy, lettuce grows wherever the seeds fall, even on the surface of the hardest soil. Garlic thrives on its own on the rough and wild county property beyond my fence line, originally started from garlic cloves unearthed in the garden and discarded over the fence some years back.
No turning the soil. No deep soil amendments. No cushioned roots.
Letís examine what we do when we prepare the soil in our garden for planting. We dig deeply to break up the soil, turning it over so what was on top goes underground and what was underground is moved to the top. So, the organic matter that is in the topsoil is turned under, largely beyond the root zone of the growing plant, and nowhere near the plantís feeder roots, which are in the top couple of inches of the soil. With every turn of the spade we are losing nutrients. Working compost into the soil helps replace some of those nutrients, but thatís not exactly efficient.
The no-dig method of gardening involves adding layers of organic matter to the surface of the soil rather than digging, tilling or otherwise greatly disturbing the topsoil. While fertilizer may be worked into the topsoil or in furrows at planting time, subsequent applications are applied on the surface and covered with organic material, not dug in. Watering makes the nutrition from the organic material and fertilizer readily available to the plantís feeder roots as it makes its way down into the soil.
I have great success using mushroom compost on the soil surface. I fertilize every three to four weeks, adding a new layer of mushroom compost each time I fertilize. The compost not only supplies organic nutrients, it acts as a ground cover, holding in moisture and keeping weeds down. The vegetables I grow in this manner thrive.
No-til gardeners spend less time weeding than traditional gardeners because every time we sodbusters turn the soil we bring dormant weed seeds to the surface, giving them the conditions they need to germinate. With the no-dig method of gardening, weeds are fewer each year because seeds in the topsoil are fewer each year.
For the best results, before you can begin no-dig gardening, youíll probably first have to do some digging. You need to remove weeds, roots, rocks and other debris from your garden. Then youíre all set. With continued practice, you should enjoy nearly weed-free gardening, and outstanding yields.
Timing is one of the keys to gardening success in Florida. Staying within or close to the recommended planting dates can mean the difference between a bountiful harvest and no harvest. Of course, if the weather is out of the ordinary ó say, especially hot, dry or wet ó that needs to be factored in, too.
Planting dates for vegetables in Florida:
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Dennis Gilson, the Front-Yard Farmer, grows a variety of vegetables, berries and fruit trees at his home in Niceville, Florida. On these pages and in Florida Currents magazine, Dennis offers local gardening information, insight and advice for others who choose to eat what they grow in North Florida and across the state.
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