Growing Squash in the Home Garden

Are you interested in growing squash in your garden?  Do you know the difference between summer squash and winter squash?  Check out this very informative instructional video on growing squash in your home garden by Walton County Agriculture Agent Evan Anderson.

 

 

Summer Irrigation Tips

July’s hot summer weather has given way to August’s 31 days of what will likely be temperatures and humidity equally elevated and intense. Wishes for November’s cooler thermometer reading are already creeping into daily conversations. The lawns and gardens in Wakulla County have rains as a mitigating factor to counteract the wilting potential of normal to excessive temperature readings. Unfortunately the arrival of water from above is not on a set or easily predictable schedule.

Traditionally, summer is the wettest season in Florida, with more than half of the annual rainfall occurring during the June to September “wet season”. Florida’s highest average annual rainfall occurs in the Panhandle with averages exceeding 60 inches per year. The Pensacola and Tallahassee weather stations are listed among the ten “wettest” stations in the nation. Still, this pattern of seasonal precipitation can vary greatly between locations, years and even days.  This variability often results in the need to water the lawn, landscape and garden. By following a few guidelines, you can produce the best results for plants under stress and conserve a vital and limited resource.

It is most efficient to apply water between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. for several reasons. Only water that is in contact with roots can be absorbed by the plant. If water is applied after 10:00 a.m., a substantial portion of it will evaporate before it reaches the roots; more will then need to be applied and this resource’s productivity will be reduced. Never water late in the afternoon as evaporation will still be a problem, and wet turf and plants will invite a variety of fungal diseases to flourish as night settles.

Photo Courtesy: Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension

In the case of landscapes and gardens, water should be applied only when the moisture in the root zone system has been depleted to an unacceptable level, usually by 1/2 to 2/3 of the stored soil-water. There are several ways to determine when the soil-water reservoir has been depleted beyond an acceptable level.  The simplest method is a visual inspection of the turf or plants. Common symptoms of water stress include leaf color changes to a bluish-gray tint, footprints which linger long after being pressed into the grass and curled or folded leaf blades. Be sure the sprinklers are delivering water to the target area as water which misses the soil and is applied to hard surfaces such as driveways and sidewalks will be wasted. It also may pose an environmental problem in the form of runoff.  Surface runoff that flows past the landscape will usually reach streams, ponds, or the Gulf of Mexico. If it picks up pollutants along the way, they too will reach the surface water bodies. 

Over watering can be just as damaging as too little water. Excessive irrigation water can infiltrate the ground and reach groundwater aquifers. This issue is complicated when groundwater runs close to the surface. Excessive nutrients or pollutants can be discharged into surface bodies or move vertically into the deeper land layers.  The connected springs and sinkholes in Wakulla County make the movement of surface water a common concern.  Responsible and efficient irrigation will have positive effects far beyond the front yard.

To learn more about the effective use of water in Wakulla County’s landscapes, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/

Increase Crop Diversity to Improve Your Garden

Most of you plant a spring vegetable garden with a number of different vegetable types. However, you may not realize that you are improving the health of your soil and your crops by planting a diverse garden.  Intercropping is a gardening practice of growing different crops in the same field.  When planting a mixture of crops in the same field year after year, it is important to rotate the location of each type of vegetable.  This is a practice known as crop rotation.  Intercropping and crop rotation will help reduce insect pest populations, increase beneficial insect populations, and reduce weed populations.

Crop Diversity

Growing plants in your garden that pest insects don’t like to eat makes the pests work harder to find what they do like to eat.  Studies have found reduced whitefly numbers on squash plantings mixed with a crop of buckwheat when compared to squash planted alone.  Another crop mixture that may be unintentional, but may work in your favor is a row of crapemyrtles along the edge of your garden.  Crapemyrtles will attract the crapemyrtle aphid which will attract predatory insects.  When the predatory insects run out of crapemyrtle aphids to eat, they will move to your garden and begin to hunt pest insects on your vegetable crop.

Squash with living mulch of buckwheat. Photo Credit: Oscar Liburd, UF/IFAS Extension

Trap Cropping

A trap crop is a plant that attracts a pest insect away from your food crops.  Trap crops work best when planted at the edge of your garden, along a fence row, or in movable containers.  A bare space, let’s say 5 feet or so, should be kept between your trap crop and your garden.  This will help keep the pests from moving on to your vegetables.  When you find a good population of pests on your trap crop then it is time to spray them with insecticide or cut the crop down and remove the debris to a location far from your garden.  If your trap crops are planted in containers, then it makes them that much easier to remove from near the garden area.

Cover Crops and Green Manure

Soil organic matter can be increased by the use of green manure and cover crops.  Cover crops are generally planted during the off-season, but they can be planted in between vegetable rows and tilled in at a designated time as a green manure.  Both cover crops and green manure improve the production of your garden by:

  • Suppressing weeds by competing for water, light, and nutrients;
  • Holding the soil in place and preventing erosion;
  • Scavenging for nutrients that can be utilized in future crops;
  • Reducing nematode populations;
  • Providing a habitat for beneficial insects.

A mixed plot of cover crops and trap crops. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

A number of different crops can serve as cover crops or green manure crops.  Most are legumes (bean family) or grasses.  A few that you might like to give a try are:

  • Cowpeas
  • Sunn hemp
  • Sorghum-sudangrass
  • Winter rye

More detailed information on cover crops and green manure can be found at this link: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa217.

Permaculture Workshop – April 29

The Jackson County Master Gardeners are hosting “Permaculture: An Introduction” on Saturday, April 29. Join us from 9AM to 2PM on Saturday, April 29 at the Jackson County Extension Office (2741 Penn Ave., Ste.#3, Marianna, FL) to learn the basics of permaculture. What is permaculture you might ask? Basically, it is the utilization of edible plants in your landscape to create a food forest. The workshop is $20 and includes lunch. To register or for more details please contact Matt Lollar at mlollar@ufl.edu, (850)482-9620, or come by the Jackson County Extension Office.

Permaculture: An Introduction – April 29

Panhandle Vegetable Gardeners Seeking the “Organic” Option

Panhandle Vegetable Gardeners Seeking the “Organic” Option

Being a gardener in the panhandle has its advantages. We’re able to grow a tremendous variety of vegetables on a year-round basis. However, in this climate, plant diseases, insects and weeds can often thrive. Usually, chemical measures are applied to thwart these pests. Some panhandle gardeners are now searching for techniques regarding a more natural form of gardening, known as organic. With fall garden planting just ahead, this may be an option for conventional vegetable gardeners looking for a challenge.

 

garden

Vegetable Garden at UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County. Photo credit: Ray Bodrey UF/IFAS.

 

So, what is organic gardening? Well, that really depends on who you ask. A broad definition is gardening without the use of synthesized fertilizers and industrial pesticides. Fair warning, “organic” does not translate into easier physical gardening methods. Laborious weeding and amending of soil are big parts of this gardening philosophy. This begs the question, why give up these proven industrial nutrient and pest control practices? Answer: organic gardening enthusiasts are extremely health conscious with the belief that vigorous outdoor activity coupled with food free of industrial chemicals will lead to better nutrition and health.

As stated earlier, the main difference between conventional and organic gardening is the methods used in fertilization and pest control. In either gardening style, be sure to select a garden plot with well-drained soil, as this is key for any vegetable crop. Soil preparation is the most important step in the process. To have a successful organic operation, the garden will require abundant quantities of organic material, usually in the form of animal manures and compost or mixed organic fertilizer. These materials will ensure water and nutrient holding capacity. Organic matter also supports microbiological activity in the soil. This contributes additional nutrients for plant uptake.  Organic fertilizers and conditioners work very slowly. The vegetable garden soil will need to be mixed and prepped at least three weeks ahead of planting.

Effective organic pest management begins with observing the correct planting times, selection of the proper plant variety and water scheduling. Selecting vegetable varieties with pest resistant characteristics should be considered. Crop rotation is also a must. Members of the same crop family should not be planted repeatedly in the same organic garden soil. Over watering can be an issue. Avoid soils from becoming too wet and water only during daylight hours.

For weed management, using hand tools to physically removing weeds is the only control method. As for insect management, planting native plants in the immediate landscape of the organic garden will help draw in beneficial insects that will feast on garden insect pests. The use of horticultural oil or neem oil is useful. However, please read the product label. Some brands of oils are not necessarily “organic”. Nematodes, which are microscopic worms that attack plant roots, are less likely an issue in organic gardens. High levels of organic matter in soil causes an inhospitable environment for nematodes. Organic disease management unfortunately offers little to no controls. Sanitation, planting resistant varieties and crop rotation are the only defense mechanisms. Sanitation refers to avoiding the introduction of potential diseased transplants. Disinfecting gardens tools will also help. Hydrogen peroxide, chlorine and household bleach are disinfecting chemicals allowed in organic gardening settings as these chemicals are used in organic production systems for sanitation. Staking and mulching are also ways to keep plants from diseases by avoiding contact with each other and the soil.

Organic gardening can be a challenge to manage, but better health and nutrition could be the reward. Please take the article recommendations into consideration when deciding on whether to plant an organic garden. For more information, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, Organic Vegetable Gardening in Florida, by Danielle D. Treadwell, Sydney Park Brown, James Stephens, and Susan Webb.