a mix of vegetable plants
A mixed vegetable garden. Photo Credit: eXtension.org.

It doesn’t get much better than eating fresh vegetables out of your own garden. I guess you could add a beverage to the mix to improve the experience. A dry chenin blanc would probably go well. Unfortunately, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE steered clear of wine as a topic, but the featured agents did focus on vegetables.

Container Gardening

Size does matter when it comes to container gardening. Think about the full grown size of the plants you plan to grow when selecting a container size. For most vegetables, 10 inches wide by 10 inches deep is sufficient, but you can grow in much larger containers. The larger the container, the more room the roots will have. For more information on gardening in containers, check out the articles “Don’t Think You Have a Green Thumb? Try Container Gardening!” and “Container Gardens for Outdoor Spaces”.

If you have a really deep container and don’t want to spend the money on potting soil to fill it up, then you’re kind of out of luck. Rocks or other materials placed in the bottom of containers will create a perched water table. So basically, you’re creating a shallower container by putting materials other than potting mix in the bottom. The physics on this topic is better explained in “Rocks in Pots: Drainage or Perched Water Table Problems?”.

It’s best to start with new potting soil each year. Especially if you plan to grow the same plant species/families in the same containers. However, if you do plan to reuse potting soil, make sure to mix it up a bit with a trowel or dump it out and put it back in the container or another container. Also, choose a different crop than what you grew in the soil the previous year. Here’s an interesting publication on growing squash in recycled potting soil.

Raised Beds

Raised beds are a great option if you live in an area with poorly drained soil or with a soil that doesn’t hold nutrients. They also can be built on legs like a table to save your back some stress. More information on build a raised bed can be found in the article “Building Raised Beds”.

Vegetables need space to grow whether they’re planted in the ground, in a small container, or in a raised bed. Recommended varieties for container gardening and spacing recommendations can be found in this container gardening fact sheet from UF/IFAS Extension in Leon County.

Who says you can’t landscape with vegetable plants and fruit trees? Vegetables such as cabbage and kale can add a depth of color and texture to your annual flower beds. And blueberry bushes and citrus trees have beautiful blooms that bees love.

Trellises can be easily built and attached to raised bed gardens. Pole beans and Malabar spinach are just a couple examples of vegetables that need something to climb on. Lettuce and other small vegetables can be grown vertically in different hydroponic systems.

Plant Selection

Some seeds can be sown directly into the garden while others should be started in trays and transplanted. More information on sowing seeds and timing can be found in the Vegetable Gardening Guide. Just make sure to check out the tables at the end of the guide.

Some plants are more tolerant of salt air and salt water. This doesn’t mean you can water these plants with the Gulf of Mexico, but they will tolerate a little bit of salt. A list of salt tolerant vegetables can be found in “Salt Tolerant Vegetable Gardening”.

The North Florida Gardening Calendar provides a month-by-month list on what to grow when.

A number of cherry tomato varieties produce a big crop fast and over a long period of time. A list of recommended cherry tomato varieties can be found in this article on cherry tomatoes.

Pole beans can be planted as early as February in the panhandle. More information on pole beans and other legumes can be found in the Legume Production Chapter of the Vegetable Production Handbook of Florida.

There aren’t a lot of options for perennial vegetables in North Florida. A perennial vegetable that can be grown here, taro, can be invasive. If you plan to grow this vegetable, please consider growing it in a container. Fortunately, we have a lot of options for perennial fruiting crops. More information on growing fruit trees can be found in the publication Dooryard Fruit Varieties.

Blackberries grow well in North Florida. You may want to try the thornless varieties ‘Freedom’, ‘Traveler’, ‘Osage’, and ‘Ouachita’. More information on growing blackberries can be found in the publication “The Blackberry”.

Some vegetables grow well in the shade. The “Veggies and Herbs Made in the Shade” publication includes a list of shade loving vegetables and herbs along with growing tips.

Community gardens provide a place to garden for people that may not have space at home. Gardening in these plots also gives people a place to meet their neighbors. Information on starting a community garden can found in the publication “Starting a Community Garden”.

Homegrown beets don’t taste anything like the ones your grandmother gave you out of a can. More information on growing beets and other root crops can be found in the Root Crop Chapter of the Vegetable Production Handbook of Florida.

Research has shown that kids are more likely to eat vegetables that they grow. The publication “Why is Exposure to Nature Important in Early Childhood?” provides more information on this subject.

Pest Management

Vine borers and leaf footed bugs are some of the most damaging pests to a vegetable garden. Planting early in the season can help avoid these pests, but if you’re too late on planting then you might want to give some natural products a try. The publication “Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida” provides some good pointers on controlling these and other insect pests.

Squirrels and other wildlife can also be pests in the garden. Deterrents can help keep these pests out of the garden.

Tomatoes are disease prone. Good air circulation and crop rotation can keep some diseases under control. Pruning tomatoes can help improve air circulation. Other control methods are outlined in these Tomato Disease Publications.

Ants don’t usually mess with your vegetables, but they can be a nuisance when working in the garden. Fire ant management information can be found in the publication “Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas”.

Squash and other cucurbits don’t last long in wet areas. They don’t last long on the vine in the first place. Growing on plastic mulch, or even pine straw, can help these vegetables stay dry. You may also want to consider building a trellis for vining cucurbits. Also, make sure to harvest in a timely manner. Squash that overripen on the vine attract insect and disease pests and just don’t taste very good.

Weeds can compete for nutrients with your crops and don’t look very attractive in the garden (or anywhere). If you’re tired of hand weeding, the Vegetable Production Handbook of Florida lists herbicide options by crop.

Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.

Matt Lollar
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