Late summer is a great time to think about starting a vegetable garden in Southwest Florida. There are certain preparations you need to make before you start the planting process.
Site Selection For Planting A SW Florida Vegetable Garden
If you planted a garden last year, consider moving this year’s garden to a different plot on the property. Planting a garden in the same spot year after year leads to depletion of minerals in soil. Mineral rich vegetables are the main reason we plant a vegetable garden. If the soil lacks minerals then there is no where for the the vegetables you are growing to draw minerals from.
Select a site that is close to your house so that you won’t find excuses not to properly care for it. The site should receive at least 6 hours of sunlight a day and needs to drain well so the roots of the plants don’t drown in sitting water.
Irrigating A Vegetable Garden
You need to water a garden with a potable water source like city water. The best way to water your garden is by way of drip irrigation. Drip irrigation uses very little water and delivers a slow steady trickle to the plant. This helps avoid over watering the vegetables. It’s also minimal water usage which makes the water bill a little easier to handle. Typical irrigation usually uses a non-potable water source such as well water or reclaimed water. Using a non-potable water source for your vegetable garden could contaminate the crop or make them taste horrible
Preparing Soil For A Garden
Most land plots in SW Florida are sandy. You’ll need to plan to supplement them with organic matter, fertilizer and compost for enrichment. Taking this step will give your vegetables a head start to readily reproduce.
Currently “composting” is a popular trend. This is converting yard wastes (such as leaves, lawn clippings, cut branches, etc.), animal waste/manure (not pet), and kitchen scraps (the left overs you usually scrape from your plate into the garbage) into a usable soil conditioner.
Achieve The Proper Soil pH
Soil pH determines how well the vegetables in your garden will absorb nutrients from the soil. The sandy soil climate of SW Florida should have an acceptable pH level ranging between 5.8 – 7.0. Add limestone to the soil only if the pH is TOO LOW. Limestone should be added as early as 2-3 months before you plan to start the garden,but definetley 2 weeks before you plant. Add limestone with existing soil, mix well and water to promote the chemical reaction that will raise pH levels.
If the pH level of your soil is ABOVE 7.0 there’s not a lot you can do except use a fertilizer that contains micronutrients and/or add granular sulfur
Regular Fertilization and Pest Control For Your Garden
Because most of Florida soil in not nutrient rich, it will be necessary for you to regularly fertilize the garden. Commonly available mixed fertilizer are perfectly acceptable for a vegetable garden. Do not over fertilize. Unused fertilizer will be expressed into the environment as run off which can contaminate water supplies.
Pest control is equally as important as fertilization. Pests can include disease, bugs, weeds, even animals. Be careful on the pesticides you decide to use as some of them can be harmful to people and often can increase the pest population. Your first step to avoid unnecessary pests is to plant during the advised upon planting season. Several times a week monitor leaves for signs of disease or infestation and remove them. Use collars around plants that can be as simple as a bottomless plastic cup. Regularly water and fertilize the crop. As soon as you know the crop is done producing remove it from the garden as soon as possible.
If you do need to use pesticides, choose wisely. Not all over the counter pesticides are safe for vegetable gardens. If the vegetable you are growing does not appear on the label then it is more than likely not advisable that you apply it. Apply the pesticides specifically in the amounts and frequency as advised by product label.
Planting a vegetable garden can be fun and a great, low cost food supplement if done properly and thoroughly. If you don’t have the time and patience to do it right then we recommend you shop your local farmer’s market.
For more indepth information on Florida gardening please visit the website of our friends at The University of Florida.