If you love the taste of fresh vegetables, try turning your yard, or a corner of it, into a veggie patch. August is the time to start preparing your fall garden. Think about what you'd like to grow — and eat — and, with the current emphasis on the environment, consider growing organically. A garden requires planning and constant care, but the payoff can be delicious.
. 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, don't underestimate the work involved. You may want to start small.
. Choose the Location: Select an area with good, well-drained soil that is near a water supply and not shaded. Most veggies need six to eight hours of full sun daily. Enclosing the garden with a fence can help keep out small, hungry critters.
. The Garden Design: Many gardeners find it helpful to draw the location of each row and the crop or succession of crops to be planted on paper. Since we garden in the fall, winter and early spring here, remember that the sun is lower in the south sky. For this reason, plant your tallest plants to the north end of your garden to avoid tall plants shading short plants.
. Soil Preparation: Have the soil pH checked to see if any amendments are needed. Some local garden centers will do pH tests, and testing is done at your local UF/IFAS county extension office. Fees vary.
. Amending the Soil: Most Florida soils benefit from the addition of organic materials (manure, rotted leaves, compost, cover crops). Mix liberal amounts of organics into the soil now, well in advance of September planting. Spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or manure per 100 square feet. Compost can also be applied at planting time. Compost often has inconsistent levels of nutrients, however, so a balanced fertilizer can be beneficial. Look for organic fertilizers at local shops.
. See it: Gather some tips by watching Vegetable Gardening Pinellas County Style online at pinellascounty.org/tv/pinellasplanting.htm.
. READ IT: The University of Florida offers a lot of information on vegetable gardening at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_vegetable_gardening. Under "Publications," click on the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
Go beyond tomatoes
Why not be adventurous and try what are called "minor vegetables" in your garden plot:
. Swiss chard is commonly found in gardens throughout Florida. A cool-weather crop, it lasts into the warmer months as well. Most gardeners find chard easy to grow, and one variety called "Bright Lights" adds color with midribs that are shades of yellow, orange, pink and red.
. Kohlrabi is grown for its globelike stem just above ground level. The globe is tender and succulent if rapidly grown and harvested, but becomes tough and fibrous if left in the ground too long. Kohlrabi can be sliced and eaten raw, boiled or roasted. Cabbagelike leaves on long stems arise from the top and sides of the stem and can be cooked similar to cabbage or kale.
. The leek is grown for its long blanched stems that have a mild onion flavor. It looks like a large green onion plant without a bulb. The thick pale leaf bases are eaten cooked or raw. The green leaves may be eaten — if you like the pungent odor and acrid taste.
More information on minor vegetables can be accessed at edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Type "minor vegetables" in the search box.
Flavor by the handful
Most herbs grow best in cooler temperatures, so include them in your garden plans. Sage, rosemary and thyme require well-drained, slightly moist soil; parsley, chervil and mint grow best in soil that retains considerable moisture. (Mint should be contained in a pot as it spreads rapidly by means of surface or underground runners.) For more information, go to edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_herbs.
Fending off flies
White flies are usually around this month. Check landscape plants for heavy populations of the tiny white flying adults. When you see them, wait 10 days, then spray with horticultural oil or Malathion. By waiting to spray, the flies will have laid their eggs and the new larvae, which do the damage, can also be killed. Be sure to follow label directions carefully. Scouting your landscape weekly will allow you to find pest infestations early when they are easiest to control.
Give flowers a boost
The annual flowers in your landscape could be looking a little sad and leggy. Rejuvenate them by removing the dead and dying blooms, then cut the plants back by about half and apply a slow release fertilizer to extend the bloom season into the fall.
Patrol for chinch bugs
Continue to watch for chinch bugs in St. Augustine lawns. Neem oil can be used to control small infestations; if large areas are affected, you will need to use a chemical insecticide. These chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, so use them cautiously.
Carol Suggs is with the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens. Pam Brown recently retired from there. For more information, visit the extension Web site at pinellascountyextension.org or call (727) 582-2100.