By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
Now is a good time to sow seeds of popular summer vegetables, particularly tomatoes, peppers, both hot and sweet, and eggplants. This is an indoor project, though, as soils will not warm up sufficiently until all danger of frost has passed, usually after March 20 or thereabouts. Use a potting soil formulated for seedlings and keep your seed tray in a warm place to encourage germination. Once you have tiny plants, give them plenty of light. Be aware that overwatering is a potential problem as it can cause seedlings to rot and die: a fungal condition called “damping off.” Fertilize with a weak solution every week or two, or use a slow release product, keeping it away from tender stems.
There are some vegetables that should be sown directly in the garden if they are to grow well, and in February these include corn, cucumbers, snow or English peas, radish (a useful quick grower), squash, turnips, and watermelon. If you have limited space, take a closer look at the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, to help refine your options (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021). Always grow what your family will eat, or be prepared to coax them into new and different flavors.
When considering where to grow, aim to move your crops from place to place each season. Crop rotation helps to discourage insects that are attracted to particular types of plants, and soil-borne diseases that attack certain plant groups don’t have the opportunity to build up to really damaging levels. You may not have an easy situation to deal with, since different vegetables mature at different rates and take up different amounts of space, but it is worth avoiding growing the same plants in the same place year after year. Ideally plants in the same family (see https://tinyurl.com/vqgqslq) should be grouped together to make this easier. Record what, when, and where you plant in the garden using simple diagrams. As your crops finish, tidy up any potentially diseased material if you haven’t done so already, and replenish the soil with compost. Draw up the next planting plan and keep these records season to season. (I certainly cannot remember the details of what I planted two or three years ago!) Aim for a three year rotation at minimum, and perhaps use a cover crop for green manure (see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide) if you have a space you don’t want to use.
When I was a child, my parents worked in our garden — the term in England that encompasses the whole backyard. My dad grew the vegetables and fruit, and my mum loved her flowers. It never occurred to me then that all flowers had their seasons, although the Michaelmas daisies (then in the Aster genus now re-categorized as Symphyotrichum) were a late summer treat for many beautiful butterflies. It was clear that the produce came and went seasonally, apparently controlled by my dad. Now I understand that we have flowers that bloom in certain seasons, for varying lengths of time, and their life cycles include setting seed for the next year. With experts advising us that we should aim to have flowering plants available year round for those oh-so valuable pollinators – like honey bees – this article may help: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg035. And for shrubs and trees to support honey bees, see https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1223.
Check out “A New Leaf” at https://tinyurl.com/yxuhw2qq and be prepared for a productive and beautiful spring.