In this time of social distancing, we are all spending more time at home. This ‘extra’ time has encouraged many folks to re-evaluate the current state of their home garden. Whether you are an avid gardener that got too busy with work, or a first time gardener, we have the resources you need. This series of blogs contains resources for planning, starting and maintaining a backyard (or front yard, if HOA rules allow) vegetable garden. This is the second in the series:
- Getting Started
- Gardening with Kids
- Maintaining a Successful Garden
- Edible Landscaping
- Using What You Grow
- Recycling What You Can’t Use
- Community Connection
If you are reading this, you are probably still practicing social distancing, engaging in social compassion, and getting a bit stir crazy. This second article in our series will discuss starting your new garden to ensure success (or at least enjoyment).
My relationship with gardening has often been one of doing what I can with what I’ve got. As an adult, I have lived in at least 6 different houses, all rentals, until about five years ago. As a perpetual renter, I learned how to create a garden in small places and in ways that would allow me to take my plants when I moved. I often could not, or did not want to, afford expensive planters or fancy pots. Instead, I opted for reusing nursery pots, finding free pots and soil online and in one case, using a discarded sink as a planter. I currently have two small kids, a dog and backyard chickens. The chickens and dog dig everything up and the kids pull plants and eat all my tomatoes before I can. This doesn’t make gardening less enjoyable. In fact, I revel in the joy on my daughter’s face when she sees a newly ripe tomato or blueberry. I love that my son wants to pick my cosmos and pull off the petals. The chickens are doing more for the health of my soil than I could do in a month of weekends. But I have accepted a different aesthetic.
I had grand ideas when I first started planning my garden, but have learned that with a full life, comes the need to let go of expectations. The goal of gardening should never be perfection, but instead, happiness. Got spots on your tomatoes? It’s ok, they will probably taste the same. Got aphids munching your milkweeds? Watch for ladybugs! Especially during this time of anxiety and uncertainty, we should not try to put another layer of stress on our lives. Use gardening as a diversionary tactic. If you don’t own a house, have a small yard, are homeschooling kids, have a destructive dog or any other number of normal life scenarios, start your garden where you are.
Starting Your Garden Where You Are:
There are a few key considerations when starting a garden; space, proximity to water, sun exposure and plant selection.
Space: A garden can be as small as a single pot filled with a mixture of wildflowers or herbs, or as intricate as an acre full of ornamental trees and shrubs. It is important for you to acknowledge the amount of space you have available as well as the amount of time it takes to maintain the space.
Water: You wan to plan your garden in an area with easy access to water. This can be proximity to an existing sprinkler system, rain barrel or spigot. Plants will require enough water to establish and depending on the type of plants, may need continuous irrigation. Choose an area for your garden that will allow you to water easily, either by hand or by setting up an irrigation system.
Sun: A vegetable garden requires between 6-8 hours of full sun each day. Many types of flower gardens will have similar requirements. Spend some time in your yard and track the sun’s path across the sky. Afternoon sun in Florida can be especially intense and may be too much for some types of plants.
Plant Selection: If you are growing a vegetable garden, be sure to source plants that are an appropriate variety for our area. Check the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide for suggested varieties. Native Florida plants can be a great choice if you are hoping for plants that are easy to maintain once established. Some plants will start best from seed, while others may be easier to establish from a transplant. When purchasing a plant be sure to check its roots; they should be white, tan or light tan and there should be no foul odor. The roots should not be circling the pot or densely packed. Check leaves for signs of insect damage and presence of disease.
Soil Considerations: Florida ‘soil’ can be very sandy with limited available nutrients. In Manatee county, our soils tend to be high in naturally occurring phosphorous but otherwise limited. If you are planting directly into the ground, you may consider adding some compost and top dressing with mulch to increase soil retention and available organic matter. If you are filling pots or raised beds, consider a soil mix that is 1/3 perlite, 1/3 sand and 1/3 compost. You can find commercially available potting mixes at several local garden supply stores.
Finding Resources and Supplies: Gardening can get expensive if you are buying your supplies new. Many resources exist online and through your community to find soil, seeds, pots and tools. Many local libraries have tool lending programs and seed exchanges. In Manatee County, our Extension Office hosts a local seed coop and we have many free seeds available at our Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic. Check your local municipality for free compost and mulch that you can pick up at the waste management facility. If you opt to buy your supplies, check online message boards such as Facebook, Craigslist or Nextdoor to find individuals reselling used items to limit the up-front cost.
Have Fun: Once you have your garden planned, next comes the fun.
When planting, you should follow these steps:
- Water Plants
- Place plants
- Dig holes;
- approximately 1/3 wider than the pot and just deep enough for the roots to sit about 1 inch above the surrounding soil (plants will settle)
- Remove plants from pots and loosen roots if necessary. If planting seeds, sow according to instructions on seed packet or according to recommendations.
- Water the surrounding soil and the root mass.
- Check on the freshly planted plants frequently and give water approx.. 5 days per week in the first two weeks then 3 for the next two weeks.
- Continue to water on a frequent basis for the first three months. Then as needed.
Check out these resources and articles for more tips.
Thanks for reading and look for our next installment of the series which will discuss ways to engage young children in gardening.