It is beneficial to have the soil pH checked to determine if any amendments are needed. Some local garden centers will do pH tests, and testing is also done at the University of Florida (fees vary). Instruction forms can be obtained at the UF/IFAS County Extension office or by visiting: soilslab.ifas.ufl.edu/ESTL_files/SS18700.pdf.
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 dates. Spread 25 to 100 pounds of compost or manure (already composted or "finished") per 100 square feet if you do not plan to use a commercial organic fertilizer. Compost can also be applied at planting time. Due to inconsistent levels of nutrients in compost, applying a balanced fertilizer can also be beneficial. If you are growing organically there are many organic fertilizers available at local sources.
You can access a myriad of University of Florida information on vegetable gardening on the Internet at: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_vegetable_gardening. Be sure to access the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf. This publication provides crop planting and insect pest information for all areas of Florida, including which varieties are better suited to our unique growing conditions, when to plant, how to space the plants, harvest times, and much more.
Why not be adventurous and try a few minor vegetables in your garden plot? Florida's mild climate presents the home gardener with an opportunity to grow a wide assortment of vegetables, including some not-so-well-known varieties.
Swiss chard is commonly found in gardens throughout Florida both as a winter vegetable, since it is a cool season crop, and one that lasts into the warmer months as well. Most gardeners find chard easy to grow. One variety called "Bright lights" has midribs that are shades of yellow, orange, pink and red that can be a colorful addition to flower beds.
Kohlrabi is grown for the globe-like swollen stem just above ground level. Cabbage-like leaves on long stems arise from the top and sides of the round, root-like stem. The globe is tender and succulent, if rapidly grown and harvested, but becomes tough and fibrous with if left in the ground too long. Kohlrabi can be sliced and eaten raw, boiled or roasted. The leaves may also 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.
For more information on minor vegetables, go to edis.ifas.ufl.edu/TOPIC_HS_MINOR_VEGETABLES.
Compiled by Theresa Badurek, urban horticulture extension agent, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Service. For more information, visit pinellascountyextension.org or facebook.com/growpinellas.