August is a good time to prepare for a fall vegetable garden. Successful vegetable gardens are the results of planning, constant care and the will to make things grow.
With the current concerns about the environment and the increased cost of groceries, you may want to consider growing some of your own vegetables and even trying the organic way.
Organic gardening differs from conventional gardening mainly in fertilizing and pest control choices. The organic gardener uses natural and organic materials and methods, while the conventional gardener uses a combination of all materials and methods shown to be safe, effective, and not detrimental to the gardener or our environment.
Start planning now. Consider the size of your family and the amount of produce you can use or may want to share. If you have not had a vegetable garden in the past, you may want to start small. Don't underestimate the work involved.
Choose the location: Select a location with good, well-drained soil, near a water supply. Make sure the area is not shaded by tall buildings or trees. Most vegetables need six to eight hours of full sun each day. Fencing the garden can help keep out small critters that want to eat your tender plants or developing vegetables.
Garden design: Many gardeners find it helpful to sketch on paper the location of each row and the crop or succession of crops to be planted. Since we garden here in the fall, winter and early spring, remember that the sun is lower in the southern sky. Therefore, you will want to plant your tallest plants to the north and successively shorter plants as you move to the south in your garden, to avoid having tall plants shade short ones.
Soil preparation: It is beneficial to have the soil pH (acidity) checked to determine if any amendments are needed. Some local garden centers will do pH tests for a fee. Soil pH testing is also done at your local UF/IFAS County Extension office, where the fees vary. Consumer Reports magazine tested six home pH testing kits and found that they gave inconsistent and inaccurate results. (Read the results at blogs.consumerreports.org/home/2008/06/soil-testing.html).
When collecting soil for a pH test, mix several small samples taken at a depth of 5 to 6 inches. Take about a cup of this mixture to the extension office. Results and recommendations will be mailed to your home.
Amending the soil: Most Florida soils benefit from applications of various forms of organic material, such as manure, rotted leaves, compost and cover crops. Now is the best time to thoroughly mix liberal amounts of organics in the soil well in advance of September planting. Spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or manure per 100 square feet if you do not plan to use a commercial organic fertilizer. Compost can be applied at planting time. Because of inconsistent levels of nutrients in compost, applying a balanced organic fertilizer can also be beneficial. Organic fertilizers are now available from many local sources.
You can find more information on organic vegetable gardening online at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/TOPIC_Organic_Gardening, or send a long, stamped (42 cents) self-addressed envelope to "Organic Vegetable Gardening," 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, FL 33774-3602.
Compiled by Pam Brown and Carol Suggs of the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens. Questions? Call them at (727) 582-2100.