Nationwide, urban gardening is the latest rage, back to our roots, literally. Southwest Florida, now is the time when we need to think about our fall gardening! Do we really want to commit to all that labor-intensive work? How much and what would make it worthwhile?
We have several stages: 1 - the planning stage, 2 - implementing it, 3 - weeding and feeding, and 4 - harvesting. Right now we need to (as Pooh says slapping his head) think, think, think. What to do, what to plant.
August is the time to set up your growing area, whether it is a big plot or a pot or a box. Oh, so many things to think about, and Scarlet O'Hara doesn't help with her, "I'll think about that tomorrow" attitude.
I do believe the planning stage is the most fun, except for eating the finished product. The anticipation, the reading of catalogues, sometimes causes us to bite off more than we can chew. Know your limitations. The five Ws - who, what when, where and why - fits here. Why, is because I want fresh healthy foods; where, is it in the empty garden lot next door, a raised bed in the backyard, pots and containers, hydroponics or aquaponics, or tucked in here and there in the landscaping, or raised beds, or vertically in pallets or hanging baskets, whatever fits the space available. They need 6 to 8 hours of sun, drainage, and be near a water supply. When, of course, is now, in order to have space and plants ready for September and October planting, (seedlings take 6 weeks); What, is where the fun begins, picking seed packets, studying the back for the information on best planting time, how long until they harvest, how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart, heirloom or new varieties, (my daughter stared at a purple blob on her fancy dinner plate at a restaurant wondering if it was edible and worth eating, I explained it was a purple carrot, she ate it; also, the waiter had encouraged us to eat the edible dendrobium blossoms decorating our food, we did); who, of course, is you, unless you have a spouse or gardener ready and willing, willing being a key word.
Implementing it involves solarization of available soil, covering with clear plastic for a month to 6 weeks to kill all weeds, viruses and bacteria present. If starting with new soil, use humus/compost (regular yard soil is full of diseases and chemicals used in the scraped up soil from its previous use, patch grassy areas with this soil), or use vermiculite in the hydroponics or prepare the set-up for PVC pipes filled with pumped circulating fertilizer water for aquaponics. One of my dearest friends has "Gro-boxes" along her driveway, my son has a long row of hydroponic pots on poles, other friends do their gardening in pots; just don't forget to keep them watered. Whatever you feel up to doing, be ready to pop in your seedlings. Go to ECHO for unique ideas. Have a friend to share the seeds with you, getting a bigger variety. You'll never eat all you plant if you have the space to plant all the seedlings in a packet. Besides, that entails a lot of time and work. Be adventurous, try new colors, new varieties, new flavors and new-to-you vegetables.
After you have put in the garden, comes the tedious difficult part. I call it the weed-n-feed time. Be forewarned and prepared for the inconveniences of growing your own food, but so worth it. Do it in the cool of the morning, wearing a hat for shade from the sun, sun lotion on and gloves to protect your hands and nails. I hate dirty nails, although, working in the soil with bare hands is soul satisfying. It's easier to maneuver plants. A tip is to dig your nails into a bar of soap first, getting it under your nails, making it easier to clean them afterwards. Definitely stay hydrated. Have a moveable stool if back breaking, bending over tries to defeat you. Check daily on watering needs, our rainy season is a blessing, but it isn't consistent. Weeds can get ahead of you, if the rain is growing tall plants, it also grows tall and thick weeds. Chemical warfare defeats healthy vegetables. Don't use chemical pesticides around anything you will eat. Mulching at least 3-6 inches deep keeps down the weeds and retains the moisture. Fertilize with an evenly balanced dry fertilizer and think about vermiculture (worm castings). Spraying a liquid fertilizer in the morning is good, but wetting your plants around noon leads to transpiration and futility, and in the evening leads to fungus and mold overnight.
I just returned from the Surfside evening farmer's market. A gentleman there has a display and is talking up the idea of aeroponics tower gardens. White plastic towers filled with small pots of plants and a pump to flush nutritionally nourished water over the plants, into the tub below, then up and over the plants again and again, recycling the water making it perfect for rooftops, patios, balconies or any sunny outdoor spot. It holds up to 20 plants. Now there is a laid back system. I forgot to price it out, which might make it questionable. Would I get my money's worth?
Now we come to the harvesting. It is not as simple as picking when you want, but staying on top if it all and picking when ripe. Young and tender is the key word here. Don't try to see how big a vegetable you can grow, they get tough and stringy. And if you don't, the plant says to itself, I've done it, enough already, and stops producing. Pick vegetables to keep it going, to reach maximum production. Vegetables have a short span of ripeness, then, they deteriorate, spoiling. It becomes a daily chore. Learn how best to store your harvest and sharing is a privilege.
I saw on Facebook - Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to garden and the whole neighborhood gets tomatoes.
Thank a tree.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden club of Cape Coral.