Growing Gilchrist is a new quarterly newsletter and monthly column in the Gilchrist Journal provided by the University of Florida/IFAS Gilchrist County Extension office. Growing Gilchrist has been developed in hopes to provide our community with useful tip and information related to gardening, farming, healthy living, rural life, and youth development among many other topics that the UF/IFAS Extension System is here to help you with. You will also find information about upcoming community events and educational programs for every member of the community. We hope that you find the information in Growing Gilchrist helpful and relevant to your life and we appreciate you taking the time to have a look. We hope you enjoy!
Favorite Fall Color: Greens…??
Everyone loves warm fall colors and the things that come along with fall when the calendar turns over to October. My favorite fall color is green. You may be thinking green isn’t a fall color but every year I look forward to planting a fall garden and with patch of greens that provide multiple uses and a great winter Superfood for low cost.
Here around Gilchrist county you may see lots of folks putting in fall gardens the last couple of months since we are afforded the opportunity to plant a second spring garden in August in September. However, once October rolls around its time to start getting your fall and winter vegetables in the ground. These include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, radish, strawberries and finally your greens. Greens come in all shapes and sizes many of which have edible leaves and tubers.
A typical winter greens patch usually contains collards, mustard, turnips and kale. Some other notable but less common greens include spinach, swiss chard, onions, Kohlrabi, beets, arugula and lettuce.
A greens patch can take a variety of forms. I grew up sowing a mixture of turnip, mustard, collards and kale into one large patch. This always meant when the time to harvest came you either had to identify different greens or pick a mixture. For this reason, some prefer planting them individually in rows which is commonly the case for commercial production. Whether you plant in a patch or in rows, seeds of these leafy greens typically need to be planted around ¼ to ½ inches deep. Seeding rates for sowing are around 4 pounds per acre for patches or about a teaspoon per 30 ft of row if planting in rows.
You can easily incorporate seeds with a cultipacker or fence drag when planting in large mixed patches or with a hoe or push cultivator plow when in small rows by just mixing the soil after sowing seeds. You can also start seeds in containers and plant transplants as well, but greens usually do well with direct seeding methods.
When fertilizing winter greens nitrogen is the most important nutrient to producing a quality green. As always getting a soil test before planting and following UF/IFAS recommendations for the crop is the first recommendation but if a soil test isn’t possible don’t worry. Applying a pre-plant fertilizer such as 10-10-10 at 2 to 3 pounds per 100 sq/ft. is a good start. You can follow this with occasional applications of a nitrogen fertilizer to keep them green and growing as the season goes.
Your patch of greens aside from producing a super food full of Vitamin A, B, C and K can be multipurpose. Using a mixture of greens as a winter cover crop in your summer garden can take advantage of left-over fertilizer from summer crops and prevent it from leaching. Greens also can contribute significantly to soil health by helping increase soil carbon through the roots they leave behind after harvest. Greens can put feeder roots down as far as 2 feet! If you patch is big enough when you finish with it can be a great source of winter forage and protein for livestock or can make a great winter food plot for deer hunting.
Crop Spotlight: Strawberries
Camarosa, Sweet Caroline, and Festival are the three varieties of strawberries recommended for gardens here in Florida. Strawberries should be planted from mid-September to the end of October and are most successful when planted from transplants or slips. Strawberry transplants can be very sensitive to dry conditions early on so regular irrigation is required during the first few weeks. A good start for strawberries with pre-plant fertilizer can be 10-5-10 at about 2 pounds per 10 feet of strawberry bed.
Pests tend to be the biggest threat to strawberries especially early on when caterpillars can cause major damage feeding on young transplants. You can help prevent this by using an insecticide like Dipel or one produced from Neem seeds with azadirachtin as an active ingredient. Pyrethroid insecticides are labeled for strawberries but should be avoided if possible since they are harmful to beneficial pollinators which are critical to fruit development. Strawberries are also susceptible to fungal disease such as powdery mildew which can be controlled with several applications of sulfur. However, remember to only apply sulfur when temperatures are less than 80°F to avoid burning the fruit or leaves. As with any pest or disease if you are unsure about treatment options contact the extension office to help identify a treatment plan for your strawberries.
Remember strawberries are very sensitive to a freeze so they may require covering if possible when temperatures are below 32°F . Strawberries planted in September and October should begin producing fruit around November and usually can produce 1 to 2 pints of fruit per plant over the course of the season. These are just a few of the important considerations for strawberries highlighted here but you should consult the extension office for further information if you need it.
Fertilizer Facts: Cover Crops
Winter cover crops are regularly used as a conservation measure in commercial agriculture applications but like mentioned early a winter garden can serve a similar purpose at a much smaller scale. Planting winter crops such as greens in the same area as your summer garden can help pull up left over fertilizers that summer crops didn’t use. This helps reduce the leaching of these fertilizer in to ground water that would have happened if the soil was left bare. Also, winter gardens help stabilize soils preventing erosion of loose soils into surface waters that can disrupt aquatic ecosystems. In addition to these direct impacts on nutrient by winter gardens they also help increase soil health by the roots they produce and leave behind when harvested. Roots help aerate the soil and when decomposed are the quickest means of increasing soil organic matter and soil carbon. By increase soil carbon you help your soil retain more water and nutrient from fertilizers. So by planting a winter garden you can create some beneficial effects for the environment and your summer garden next year.
4-H is Growing!
During the times of COVID, 4-H is having to grow and adapt to new restrictions for meetings based on UF policies. These new policies are in place for member and volunteer safety while numbers for COVID-19 are still high in Florida. The tri-county area (Gilchrist-Levy-Dixie) 4-H programs are working collaboratively to grow through this situation to offer some new options for members so every youth in our community has access to 4-H. So, we have two exciting new 4-H options!
Option 1– Mailbox 4-H Meetings:
Youth must register between September 1-November 1 in 4-H online. The Mailbox meetings will be offered for creative life skills, small animal, general livestock/meats, dairy, dog, and horse. There will be no in-person meeting everything you need will come through the mail. Youth will be able to select options from a “menu” of activities. Project based kits will be mailed 1-2x monthly for each member and members will mail answer pages back for participation credit. Youth must complete a minimum of 5 project kits and 1 community service project from September-March to be eligible to show at the Suwannee River and State fairs.
Option 2– Virtual 4-H Meetings:
Youth must register between September 1-November 1 in 4-H online. Virtual meetings will be offered 2x per month on ZOOM (an online, secure meeting room) and will require pre-registration for each meeting you plan to attend. Links to meetings will be emailed to anyone who is registered before each meeting. Youth must participate in a minimum of 5 meetings from September-March to be eligible to show Suwannee River and State fairs. Meetings will be general in focus, not project specific.
Here are some places where you can learn more about the topics from Growing Gilchrist Vol. 1:
Central Florida Gardening Calendar
Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide
Growing Collard Greens for the Fresh and Processing Markets
Growing Collard Greens
COLLARDS Factsheet Clemson Cooperative Extension
Growing Strawberries in the Florida Home Garden