Time to Prep for Spring Vegetable Gardening!
Did you know that you can grow vegetables year round in Florida? The trick is knowing that summer really isn’t a good time for most veggies. A few, like sweet potatoes and okra, do well in the summer heat, but spring and fall are our most fruitful times to garden. The winter months are a great time to grow things in the Brassicaceae Family like collards, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage as they are hardy and won’t die back with the numerous frosts and freezes that we can experience. While spring is still over a month away but now is a great time to start growing your tomatoes and peppers, too. You can get a head start on these veggies by starting them indoors during the late winter months, so they are protected from the cold and ready to plant outside in late February or early March. If you start growing your seedlings 6-8 weeks before you plan to start your garden, you can have a big harvest a month early. Start tomatoes and peppers indoors using a container (pot, seed tray, or even an egg carton), seed starting soil mix, and seeds. If you are using old seeds, I would recommend performing a germination test to see what percent of your seeds are still viable. This will help you attain a better estimate of how many seeds will actually sprout/germinate and how many you should use. (For more information on how to do a germination test, visit http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/pascoco/2017/08/24/using-old-seeds/. If you determine your seeds have a low germination rate (i.e. 50% or less), double the amount of seeds you would regularly use to obtain your desired amount of seedlings for transplanting.
When starting seeds in a cell tray, fill the entire tray ¾ with soil and drop your predetermined number of seeds in each cell. Then simply fill in the rest of the cells with soil and water your tray. Place the cell tray outside in full sun, if possible. Just be prepared to move or protect them if the night time temperatures drop much below 40F. Simply set them back outside once the danger of cold damage has passed.
If you do not have a cell tray, any container can be used. Some people use pots, egg cartons, and even old milk jugs cut in half. Just do not overseed your cells or container; seedling roots will become entangled and hard to separate. If you accidentally overseed a cell, when your seeds sprout and have formed their second set of leafs (true leaves), remove duplicate plants from the cell and transfer to an empty cell. There are many tools that can be used to do this but a popsicle stick with a “v” cut into it will work well. Insert the popsicle stick deep into the cell (trying to avoid damaging roots), and lift up to loosen the roots, removing duplicate plants along the way without damaging the roots. Figures 1-4 show examples of how to do this.
Figures 5 and 6 depict a tray that was overseeded with kale. At this point, the plants are too big to try and separate, as their roots are tangled. Trying to separate them at this point will lead to torn roots and dead plants. Not all is lost in this case. You could harvest the greens at this st
age and consume them as microgreens.
When you are ready to plant the transplants in your garden, you can use the blunt end of a pencil to push the entire plant up out of the cells.
For more information on when to plant what vegetables, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/vh/vh02100.pdf. To attend a free vegetable gardening class in Pasco County, check out our events calendar at https://calendar.google.com/calendar/embed?mode=AGENDAemail@example.com&ctz=America/New_York.