Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Timing and rotation are keys to successful vegetable garden

Last year, I was foolish enough to brag not only about the environmental virtue of planting a vegetable garden, but about the harvest I expected.

"Nearly every evening meal will be supplemented by food from our garden, starting, in a few weeks, with herbs and lettuce sprouts,'' I wrote last February. "Later will come squash, onions and more tomatoes than we can eat.''

What a joke.

My tomatoes were so infested with tomato pinworm they dissolved into mush on the vine. I didn't realize until I'd pulled up a succession of pitifully slim bulbs that, in Florida, onions are a winter crop.

And the squash, the supposedly idiot-proof zucchini? I'm here to tell you it's not. Mine were small, shriveled and teeming with what I later learned were pickle worms.

"A little extra protein,'' joked Jim Moll, Hernando's urban horticulture extension agent.

I called Moll partly because I wondered if the national vogue for growing vegetables — inspired by hard times and a desire to eat locally — had spread to Hernando.

It has, he said. His vegetable gardening classes have been packed, and some students are as clueless as I am.

"Most of them get the timing completely wrong,'' he said. By that he meant Northerners want to plant spring crops in Florida the same time of year they did in Wisconsin. So, if this column has any worth at all, it will be to warn those of you who were planning to put in tomatoes this weekend.

It's too late, Moll said. Our summer heat and bugs will descend before they are mature enough to fruit.

My problem, or my main problem, is that I have been growing the same crops on the same plot of land for five years.

Once a pest like the tomato hornworm finds a few rows of its favorite food source, the pupa hang around in the soil. If the gardener is foolish, and the moth lucky, a leafy canopy perfect for a new clutch of eggs will be the first thing it sees when it emerges the following year.

So, what I've mainly produced over all these years is a dense and varied population of pests.

Yes, there's a solution. Organic gardeners, like Realtors, have reduced it to a mantra: "Rotation, rotation, rotation.'' But this is a lot of work — tilling and fencing off a whole new block of earth, enriching it from scratch with compost.

Looking for a shortcut, I visited Green World Path, a year-old business off the State Road 50 truck route in Brooksville. Like me, its workers think we can't go on raising crops the way we do now. Pesticides take the life out of soil, said technical director J.B. Williams, and leave it empty of all nutrients other than the chemical fertilizer farmers apply.

"Our plants are junkies,'' Williams said.

Unlike me, he had some solutions — natural products that enrich the soil, restore beneficial fungi and bacteria, and build stronger plants better able to fight off pests.

What Williams didn't offer was a shortcut. He doesn't like to sell anything without a $48 soil sample (which is much more complete, he said, than the $10 one offered by the Cooperative Extension Service) and a follow-up consultation.

Maybe for my fall garden. In the meantime, my tomato plants have grown hip-high, and I can now look forward to a nice crop of mush.

Timing and rotation are keys to successful vegetable garden 04/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 7:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Siesta Beach tops rankings of best beaches in America

    Tourism

    Three beaches in Florida made it on a highly coveted list of the top 10 in America this year, ranked by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. "Dr. Beach."

     Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. "Dr. Beach," ranked Siesta Beach in Sarasota as the No. 1 beach in America.
[TImes file photo]
  2. Tattooed 'Joker' accused of pointing gun at Miami traffic

    Bizarre News

    MIAMI — Police in Miami-Dade County have managed to arrest the Joker without Batman's help following reports of a green-haired man with tattoos on his face pointing a gun at traffic.

    This photo provided by the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department shows Lawrence Sullivan, who was arrested in Miami-Dade County, Fla., on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, and charged with carrying a concealed firearm. Police say the self-described "tattoo model" was pointing a gun at moving vehicles. [Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department via AP]
  3. Deputies: Two men, teen intentionally set fire, left it to burn within Weedon Island Preserve

    Fire

    ST. PETERSBURG –– Two men and a teen face charges after deputies say they deliberately started a fire within Weedon Island Preserve last month.

    Adam Grote, 19, left, and Brandon Kholos, 20, along with a 17-year-old, face charges after deputies say they intentionally started a fire on April 15, 2017, that burned about six acres on Googe Island within Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Police chief: Manchester searches turn up valuable info in concert bombing

    World

    MANCHESTER, England — Home searches across Manchester have uncovered important items for the investigation into the concert bombing that left 22 people dead, Manchester's police chief announced Thursday, while other British authorities complained bitterly about information leaks blamed on U.S. officials.

    A police officer at the scene at an address in Nuneaton, England Thursday May 25, 2017 where they arrested a seventh suspect in the investigation into the Manchester Arena bombing. British police have arrested a seventh person in connection with the Manchester Arena bombing. The man was held Wednesday after police carried out searches in the English town of Nuneaton, which is about 161 kilometers (100 miles) south of Manchester. [Joe Giddens | PA via AP]
  5. Joe Henderson: Only unanimous jury vote justifies extreme act of execution

    Columns

    A ruling last week by the U.S. Supreme Court on Florida's death penalty law didn't generate a lot of chatter, but don't let that fool you.

    A jury recommended execution for Dontae Morris of Tampa by a 10-2 vote in one of his murder trials. The recommendation was unanimous when he was tried in the shooting deaths of two Tampa police officers.