By Pam Brown, (ELW resident)
I keep hoping for some cool fall weather. The forecast is not good in that regard. Due to the expected strong El Nino developing in the Pacific, the winter should be warmer with much more rain than normal. Fall in Florida is normally a lovely time. The days are sunny, possibly a bit cooler and plants begin to perk up to the cooler night temperatures.
October brings the Pinellas County summer Nitrogen fertilizer ban to a close and we can fertilize our lawns before winter. Use a formula similar to 15 – 0 – 15 with 50% slow release Nitrogen (first number). Most Pinellas County soils contain naturally high levels of Phosphorus (second number), so “zero-phosphorus” fertilizers are the rule unless a state-certified laboratory soil test confirms a deficiency of Phosphorus in the soil. If you need to have a soil test performed, the IFAS Soils Laboratory has the forms and directions for collecting the sample on their website:
Growing your own vegetables has become more popular, but can be a challenge, especially when we must contend with deer, raccoons, squirrels and armadillos. But, if you have a screened enclosure that is open to the sun, you can grow quite a bounty of vegetables this fall in containers shielded from these critters with fewer insect pests as well. Choose the site for your containers carefully since vegetables require at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun, especially those producing fruit like tomatoes and peppers. Lettuce and other greens withstand a little shade. Some good choices for containers are tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, bush beans along with all kinds of lettuce and greens. Plants like squash and cucumbers need pollinators not present inside the enclosure to produce fruit. Although, I have ordered seeds of greenhouse cucumbers that perform very well inside the screen enclosure since they are were developed to not require a pollinator. The variety that I have planted and had success with is called ‘Lisboa’.
Containers for vegetables should be large enough to hold the mature plant.
A five gallon planter holds one tomato, pepper, or eggplant. Also consider window boxes or “grow boxes” that are specifically designed for vegetable gardening. Remember, holes in the bottom for drainage are important for any container you choose.
Choose commercial potting soil containing some sand and perlite for drainage. Add some compost (Black Cow, mushroom compost, etc.) into the mix – about 1/3 of the total volume. Don’t use soil from your yard since this can add weed seeds, diseases, nematodes and harmful insects. Incorporate fertilizer into the potting soil at planting following directions on the label. Use fertilizer labeled specifically for vegetables like Dynamite 13-13-13. If you are growing tomatoes and peppers, add some garden lime to the mix also. Never use lawn fertilizers for vegetables. The ratio of nutrients is not appropriate.
Vegetables grow fast and need a consistent source of water and fertilizer. Many containers need to be watered every day once the plants start to mature. Allowing the plants to wilt will reduce the yield and also affect the taste.
Since gardening in Florida is different, the University of Florida is the best source for information. Access these two publications on the Internet; “Minigardening (Gardening in Containers)” at http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00003428/00001 and the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021 which lists the vegetable varieties appropriate for planting here along with the planting dates. Vegetable Gardening in Florida by James Stephens is the best book to
purchase for gardening information. It is a great resource that also contains excellent pictures of insect pests and diseases of vegetables.
You might want to start small with lettuce in a window box planter or one tomato plant in a large pot. Once you taste the way just picked veggies taste, you just might be hooked.