Once you get growing, you'll find you want to do a little more a little better - and with a little less time spent shelling out money at the local garden center.
There's lots of free and/or very affordable help available.
Organic Vegetable Gardening, a guide at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH019 , was written by University of Florida horticulture professor emeritus James Stephens. It has easy-to-understand instructions and explanations tailored to Florida gardens, including fertilizing and how to create a compost pile.
UF's Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH021 , isn't specifically organic but has even more information, including a long list of vegetables and their Florida growing seasons. It recently underwent an extensive update.
Soil acidity - the pH - should be about 7.0. You can get yours tested for $2 through the Hillsborough Extension.
Here's what to do: Using a trowel, take 10 soil slices, about 4 to 6 inches deep, from the area to be tested. Combine them into a 1-cup sample and spread on a newspaper to dry. Bring or mail to the Hillsborough Extension Service, 5339 County Road 579, Seffner FL 33584 (from Interstate 4, take exit 10 and head south on County Road 579 about 3/4-mile). Testing is done each Friday morning on samples in hand by Thursday, and results are mailed on Monday.
A more extensive soil fertility test for potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, pH and lime requirement costs $7 for vegetable gardens. Find forms and mailing instructions at
soilslab.ifas.ufl.edu, click on Analysis.
Questions? Call the Extension office (813) 744-5519.
Fish Emulsion-Seaweed Fertilizer Recipe
The popular organic fertilizer is available commercially, but may be hard to find. This simple recipe is being passed around on the Internet. Warning: It may stink, and it may attract cats!
Fill a 5-gallon pot halfway with canned fish such as sardines, including the juice.
Add about half that amount of fresh or dried seaweed (available at Asian food markets or the beach). Rinse the fresh stuff to remove salt, and chop or soak it before adding to the pot.
Add sawdust - about half the amount of the seaweed
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
2 tablespoons Epsom salt (added after the tea is ready)
Mix together everything but the Epsom salt. Cover with a screen to keep out bugs and continue to mix well daily. After one to two weeks, when the solution is foamy, add the Epsom salts. Use 1 liter of "tea" diluted in 4 to 5 liters of water and spray on leaves for occasional feeding.
The Good Guys
These keepers will help control the bad guys. Welcome them!
Good Stuff For The Bad Guys
To manage garden pests, try these nontoxic tricks from Eileen A. Buss of UF's Department of Entomology and Nematology:
•Hot dust: Grind dried homegrown red or chili peppers or dill weed (including seeds) to dust. Sprinkle along seeded rows of vegetables to repel ants. Store-bought black pepper, chili pepper, dill, ginger, paprika and red pepper all contain capsaicin, which repels ants.
•Tomato leaf spray: Soak 1 to 2 cups of chopped tomato leaves in 2 cups of water overnight. Strain through cheesecloth, add 2 more cups of water to the strained liquid, and use it to spray plants to protect from sucking insects.
•Rodale's all-purpose spray: Chop and grind one garlic bulb and one small onion. Add 1 teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper and mix with 1 quart of water. Steep one hour, strain through cheesecloth and add 1 tablespoon of liquid diswashing soap to the strained liquid. Mix well and spray plants thoroughly. Kills sucking insects.
•Potato starch spray: Mix 2 to 4 tablespoons of potato flour in 1 quart of water, and add 2 to 3 drops of non-detergent liquid soap. Kills sucking insects.
•Garlic spray: Blend 1/4-pound of strong garlic for five to 10 minutes with a quart of water and 1 tablespoon of Safers or other liquid dishwashing soap. Strain through cheesecloth and collect the liquid. Dilute the solution with one part per 10 parts water before spraying. This solution will last about one month refrigerated. It repels ants, mole crickets and sucking insects.