Panhandle Vegetable Gardeners Seeking the “Organic” Option

Being a gardener in the panhandle has its advantages. We’re able to grow a tremendous variety of vegetables on a year-round basis. However, in this climate, plant diseases, insects and weeds can often thrive. Usually, chemical measures are applied to thwart these pests. Some panhandle gardeners are now searching for techniques regarding a more natural form of gardening, known as organic. With fall garden planting just ahead, this may be an option for conventional vegetable gardeners looking for a challenge.


Vegetable Garden at UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County. Photo credit: Ray Bodrey UF/IFAS.


So, what is organic gardening? Well, that really depends on who you ask. A broad definition is gardening without the use of synthesized fertilizers and industrial pesticides. Fair warning, “organic” does not translate into easier physical gardening methods. Laborious weeding and amending of soil are big parts of this gardening philosophy. This begs the question, why give up these proven industrial nutrient and pest control practices? Answer: organic gardening enthusiasts are extremely health conscious with the belief that vigorous outdoor activity coupled with food free of industrial chemicals will lead to better nutrition and health.

As stated earlier, the main difference between conventional and organic gardening is the methods used in fertilization and pest control. In either gardening style, be sure to select a garden plot with well-drained soil, as this is key for any vegetable crop. Soil preparation is the most important step in the process. To have a successful organic operation, the garden will require abundant quantities of organic material, usually in the form of animal manures and compost or mixed organic fertilizer. These materials will ensure water and nutrient holding capacity. Organic matter also supports microbiological activity in the soil. This contributes additional nutrients for plant uptake. Organic fertilizers and conditioners work very slowly. The vegetable garden soil will need to be mixed and prepped at least three weeks ahead of planting.

Effective organic pest management begins with observing the correct planting times, selection of the proper plant variety and water scheduling. Selecting vegetable varieties with pest resistant characteristics should be considered. Crop rotation is also a must. Members of the same crop family should not be planted repeatedly in the same organic garden soil. Over watering can be an issue. Avoid soils from becoming too wet and water only during daylight hours.

For weed management, using hand tools to physically removing weeds is the only control method. As for insect management, planting native plants in the immediate landscape of the organic garden will help draw in beneficial insects that will feast on garden insect pests. The use of horticultural oil or neem oil is useful. However, please read the product label. Some brands of oils are not necessarily “organic”. Nematodes, which are microscopic worms that attack plant roots, are less likely an issue in organic gardens. High levels of organic matter in soil causes an inhospitable environment for nematodes. Organic disease management unfortunately offers little to no controls. Sanitation, planting resistant varieties and crop rotation are the only defense mechanisms. Sanitation refers to avoiding the introduction of potential diseased transplants. Disinfecting gardens tools will also help. Hydrogen peroxide, chlorine and household bleach are disinfecting chemicals allowed in organic gardening settings as these chemicals are used in organic production systems for sanitation. Staking and mulching are also ways to keep plants from diseases by avoiding contact with each other and the soil.

Organic gardening can be a challenge to manage, but better health and nutrition could be the reward. Please take the article recommendations into consideration when deciding on whether to plant an organic garden. For more information, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, Organic Vegetable Gardening in Florida, by Danielle D. Treadwell, Sydney Park Brown, James Stephens, and Susan Webb.




Posted: August 19, 2016

Category: Horticulture
Tags: Compost, Crop Rotation, Disease, Edible Landscape, Fertilization, Fertilizer, Fertilizing, Insects, Integrated Pest Management, Master Gardener, Panhandle Gardening, Soil, Vegetable, Vegetable Gardening


wordpress revisions not showing
January 24, 2022

Your style is very unique in comparison to other folks I've read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just book mark this blog.

game macbook
October 5, 2021

Woman of Alien Great do the job you have completed, this page is actually interesting with wonderful facts. Time is God as way of keeping every little thing from occurring at once.

Samantha Kennedy

May 22, 2020

Merry, I never use salt when cooking rice and prefer to add a little bit of butter instead of olive oil because I like the taste butter imparts. However, neither olive oil nor butter are necessary for cooking rice. Another great way to cook rice is by using chicken broth instead of water. The finished rice has a delicious chicken flavor that can boost the overall richness of the final product. As for short- and medium-grain vs. long-grain rice, they are not created equal. You will generally not get the same results from short- or medium-grain rice as you will from long-grain rice, especially if a recipe specifically calls for long-grain rice. Long-grain rice, when cooked, is dry and loose, whereas short- and medium-grain rice is sticky and clumps together. For fried rice, long-grain is best. Short-grain rice is great for rice pudding and sushi, whereas medium-grain rice is best used for dishes such as risotto. Samantha Kennedy, M.S. Family and Consumer Sciences Agent UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County

Merry Pearl
May 21, 2020

This is quite helpful. Being in self isolation quite a distance from home, I inevitably needed a culinary companion. This site has been the guide I so much needed. Cooking rice is the combination of art and science. I sometimes see chefs sprinkling salt and olive oil when preparing rice, what’s your take on this? And would you get the same results if you used short or medium grain variety?

Renee Perry
August 19, 2016

Thanks for writing about organic gardening. More and more gardeners are turning to it, but there are still more to convince. I want to correct the notion that organic gardens require lots of work, particularly weeding. I practice a form of organic gardening that uses heavy mulches to suppress weeds. Mulches also protect the soil from burning up under our hot subtropical sun, promote beneficial microbial activity, and add organic matter to the soil when they eventually break down. This results in an average of about 5 minutes a month spent weeding a 1500 square foot garden. I'm guessing it takes quite a bit longer than that to spray poisonous herbicides over the same area. I've been using this method for over 17 years with wonderful results and would never go back to bare earth gardening.

Matthew Orwat
July 18, 2016

I am not familiar with nurseries in Okaloosa County, but you should try calling the extension office located at 3098 Airport Road Crestview, FL 32539 Phone: (850) 689-5850 or email the horticulture agent Larry Williams

Glen Pratt
July 17, 2016

Where can I find a kumquat tree in Okaloosa County?

Ray Bodrey

June 29, 2016

Hi Donna. For better results, zoysiagrass require frequent fertilization. Periodic soil testing should be conducted every 2 to 3 years as the basis for applications of lime and fertilization. Your local county extension office can help with your soil testing needs. Soil test results will help determine management measures, such as to maintain the proper soil pH between the desired range of 6.0 to 6.5 and keep the nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium levels at recommended levels. For minimum maintenance, it is recommended to apply between 2 to 3 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of zoysiagrass lawn per year in north Florida. To accomplish this, apply a complete fertilizer such as 16-4-8, 13-13-13, or10-10-10 at least three times a year in April, June, and August.

June 22, 2016

So what months should zoysia be fertilized and with what type fertilizer? I put it my small backyard a couple years ago.

Ann Poppy
May 1, 2016

Two green thumbs up! Old-timers here in Pensacola say you can pinch back azaleas 'til the Fourth of July and still get a good bloom; this works well for me. (They also say you should plant your potatoes and fertilize your rose bushes on Valentine's Day and that you can pinch back your poinsettias until Labor Day. This also works well for me as far as the rose bushes and poinsettias go. I haven't tried potatoes yet, but maybe I'll try planting some on Valentine's Day, 2017.)

Lectii Apicultura
March 20, 2016

Very well written article, and easy to follow

Mary Derrick
June 10, 2015

We know all about plants, but not about the law. You may want to consult a lawyer or state agency that deals with these issues. Good luck!

May 31, 2015

Can the HOA's stop you from having a small garden? There is nothing in the Master Documents that address this issue in particular.

May 28, 2015

Ants are also amazing. They aerate the soil, help with decomposition and waste removal, plant seeds, and are food for many birds and other animals. I'm all for getting rid of the invasive fire ants but I'd discourage people from killing the other ants in their yards.

August 20, 2014

Thanks for the timely article. One of the things I dislike about vacations is that I have to leave my plants unattended. I think the points you raised were just perfect. As to houseplants, I would only add that there are self-watering systems one can use as well. They’re better than nothing if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time. Richard

August 1, 2014

Hello Roy, My wife and I have been raising bees for about a year. As novice beekeepers we are seeking natural methods instead of the chemical practices you mentioned in the article to ensure a healthy hive in the spring. We are open to any suggestions you may have. Thank you in advance for your help. Brett

c. orchard
May 24, 2014

Great article but you did not mention soil Ph. I have quite a few daylilies but their foliage is slightly yellow. I have used a good fertilizer but wonder if the Ph is not right. Thanks for any information you can provide. Carolyn

loupa pius
November 8, 2013

am really happy for the services you offer to, to me am a student studying apiculture in uganda, am more interested in knowing how robbing occurs within on colony. thanks to you

Matthew Orwat
November 6, 2013

William, thanks for your question. This is a common issue, since many folks apply fertilizer to centipede grass late in the year to green it up. Doing this does little or nothing for greening up the lawn and can actually harm the grass by encouraging growth when it is entering its dormant period. This can also encourage late season root rots. As a general rule, I would recommend the last application of fertilizer to Centipede and St. Augustine in mid September. Absolutely no ferteilzer should be applied after September 31st. For more information, take a look at this publication on Centipedegrass from UF IFAS Extension. Hope this helps, Matt

William Dockery
November 5, 2013

Mr. Carter- i work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and need to know when the best time to apply fall fertilizer to St. Augustine and Centipede grass; I learned in an earlier artical about the right time to apply lawn fertilizer for the spring is after the soil has warmed up...but didn't see anything mentioned about fall/winter applications. Your response is greatly appreciated. Thank you, William Doc Dockery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories

Skip to toolbar