Meet Ray Bodrey!

Meet Ray Bodrey!

Ray Bodrey is in his fifth year as the Gulf County Extension Director. Ray is originally from the “Watermelon Capital of the World” – Cordele, GA, where he grew up on a family row crop farm. His extension areas are Agriculture, Natural Resources (including Sea Grant programs) and Horticulture. He holds degrees in Biology, (B.S. 2006, Georgia Southern University); Agricultural Leadership, (M., 2011, University of Georgia) and Soil & Water Sciences, (M.S. 2015, University of Florida). Ray is also beginning his second year of the PhD program in UF’s Soil & Water Sciences Department. His research focus concerns strategies for building soil health after timber to pasture land conversion.

Ray’s horticulture programming efforts include extension series library talks on lawn and gardening topics, teaching courses for the Master Gardener Volunteer Program, as well as teaching pesticide license exam review and GI-BMP trainings. Before coming to UF/IFAS Extension, Ray was a member of the Water Quality Program of the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service – Georgia Sea Grant Program for eight years. As a Marine Resource Specialist, Ray’s extension and research centered on nonpoint source pollution activity in coastal surface waters.

When not juggling extension hats, Ray enjoys fishing, hunting, gardening and really, just being in the great outdoors. Growing skyscraper sunflowers, raised bed gardening,  composting and caring for citrus and peach trees are just some of the fun times had around his homestead.


Conserving Water in the Home Garden, A Fluid Situation

Conserving Water in the Home Garden, A Fluid Situation

Figure: Increase water holding capacity through home composting.
Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS Communications.

Water is a precious resource for Floridians, even if the last couple of months of rainfall may make you think otherwise. As home gardeners, we should keep water conservation in mind.

Wasting water now may cause restrictions in the future, as basic water needs of a growing population outpace capacity. Of course, we all hope that’ll never happen, but it is possible.

As we start planning for our fall vegetable garden, let’s think about conserving water usage. We can start by putting our “plant biology” cap on. A great way to save water is to plant fast growing, early-maturing vegetables. The strategy, of course, is the sooner a plant matures the less water it will need.

Gardening periods in Florida vary, too. Thus, there are broad choices of planting dates for many vegetables. For Panhandle gardeners, the current trend has shown dry periods in the spring, but adequate rainfall in summer months. Usually with the seasonal change to fall, soil moisture holding capacity is not a great struggle in Panhandle. However, much of our soils consist of coarse sandy particles, which are not ideal for water holding capacity. Amending garden soils with organic materials such as compost, manures, and cover crops, will help the soil hold water better.

Selecting the right irrigation method is also a great way to conserve water. Overhead sprinkling is not ideal for most gardening applications. This method wastefully projects water into areas between rows, outside of root zones and allows for much evaporation loss. Drip irrigation can help solve these issues, by concentrating water directly to the root system. IFAS research has estimated an 80% reduction in water usage when utilizing a drip system.

If drip irrigation isn’t a method you’re interested in, overhead watering the garden thoroughly twice weekly is an acceptable alternative. Remember, there’s a limit to how much water plants can use. Excess water can cause runoff and consistent heavily saturated soils may promote root rot. Mulching also ranks highly among water conservation practices, by allowing the soil to hold more moisture. Examples of mulch types include hay, straw, leaves or plastic.

Supporting information for this article can be found at the UF/IFAS gardening solutions website.

For planting information, please see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.


Fruit Drop & Fruit Split, the Heartbreak of Citrus

Fruit Drop & Fruit Split, the Heartbreak of Citrus

We’re lucky to live an environment where many citrus varieties can be grown. However, many problems can occur when growing citrus, but none more frustrating than fruit drop or fruit split.

Most citrus varieties are susceptible to fruit drop. This is a major cause of low yield in the Navel orange industry. Quite a few variables can cause the condition. This can be difficult to pin point, however. Ethylene gas production goes into effect when a citrus tree is injured, which can spark fruit drop. Our culprit this year may be the late summer excessive periods of rain, high temperatures and areas of poorly drained soils. Low potassium is thought to also be factor in fruit drop, so be sure to follow a fertilizer schedule every year. Competition between fruitlets and young leaves for carbohydrates, water, and other metabolites can be the reason for fruit drop early in the season, as well.

Figure 1: Fruit Split in Naval Orange.
Credit: Ray Bodrey, UF/IFAS Extension Gulf County

Fruit drop can especially affect mature trees. This could mean up to 25% of fruit loss. Brown rot can accompany this condition, if moisture persists for long periods. Fruit drop is usually associated with the lower, shaded areas of the tree canopy.

Fruit split is more severe in Valencia, Hamlin and Navel oranges. Grapefruit (and other acidic fruits like lemons and limes), Tangerines and Temple fruit are much less susceptible. What is thought to be the primary cause of fruit splitting? High temperatures and heavy rainfall during August can easily give rise to the condition. Excess water taken up by a tree during this time will swell the meat of the fruit causing it to grow quickly. Unfortunately, it is believed that the peel does not grow at the same rate. Damage often occurs as the peel eventually caves under the pressure. Nutritional stresses early in fruit development can also be a factor, as low potassium and copper levels have been correlated. The condition is more likely to emerge when no irrigation practices were in place during dry periods that existed earlier in the year

If fruit split has been a problem this year, ensure a recommended fertilizer program next year. Proper tree siting, nutrition and irrigation scheduling are the best defense against fruit drop and fruit split. Although these measures are not a cure all for the conditions, a healthy citrus tree is less likely to be affected. Contact your local county extension office for more information.

Supporting information for this article is from the UF/IFAS Extension EDIS publication: “Citrus Problems in the Home Landscape” by Mongi Zekri and Robert E. Rouse: & information is also provided by Extension Fruit Crop Specialist, Dr. Pete Andersen with IFAS located at Quincy, North Florida Research and Education Center.

UF/IFAS Extension is an equal opportunity institution.

It’s Almost Never Too Late for Sunflowers

It’s Almost Never Too Late for Sunflowers

Sunflowers, Helianthus spp., are a great choice for gardeners who are looking for some cheerful color in their landscape. Here in Florida, we have the main ingredient for success, lots of sunshine!

‘Skyscraper’ Sunflower bloom. Photo courtesy of Ray Bodrey.

Sunflowers are short-lived annuals. The average time between planting and bloom is roughly 65 days. You can typically plant sunflowers in Florida beginning in late winter until early fall. Only the coldest months cause problems, and for most years that’s only November – January. Sunflowers can be planted almost anywhere there is full sun. The major selling point with sunflowers is, of course, the impressive blooms (figure 1). These yellow to sometimes orange or red-petaled flowers develop a central seed disc, with most variety’s flowers having approximately an 8” diameter.

When planting, you may choose to plant in narrow rows with close seed spacing in order to cull weaker plants later. A final row and seed spacing of 2’-3’ is recommended for full height and development of most varieties. However, you may also choose to plant in a bed, using a close pattern as seen in the photo below. In any event, sunflowers are easy to propagate by seed and are very low maintenance.  Occasionally, powdery mildew and spittle bugs can be a nuisance. A general garden fungicide and insecticide will help if problems occur.

‘Skyscraper’ sunflowers planted on close spacing. Photo courtesy Ray Bodrey.

Sunflowers are available in many varieties, consisting of different color blooms and plant sizes. These sizes range from dwarf (1’-3’) to tall (10’-15’) varieties. You may wish to stake taller varieties at some point, as plants will tend to lean with no wind break in place. Here’s a few garden variety common names to look for: ‘Sunbright’, ‘Sonja’, ‘Sunrich Lemon’, ‘Sunrich Orange’ and ‘Autumn beauty’. Seed companies also have mixes available in packets. For tall plants, ‘Mammoth’ or ‘Skyscraper’ varieties will do the trick.

If you are fond of the sunflower bloom and looking for a groundcover, there are a couple of native perennials that fit this category. Beach sunflower, Helianthus debilis or swamp sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius, are groundcovers/ornamentals for landscapes and thrive in dry, hot climates and in a range of soil types. They also are great pollinator attractors.

For more information on growing sunflowers, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article and links to other publications on sunflowers can be found at the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website:

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

It’s the Little Things in Life, like Mini Vegetable Gardening

It’s the Little Things in Life, like Mini Vegetable Gardening

Whether it’s the warm or cool season of the year, vegetable gardening is as popular activity as any. In writing articles, I usually discuss best management practices on a backyard garden scale. But, what if you don’t have much of a backyard?

Many Floridians live in apartments, condominiums, mobile home parks, or simply homes built on small parcel lots with little open gardening space. This doesn’t mean you can’t grow vegetables. You just have to be a bit creative and that’s when the fun starts. In addition to being an enjoyable activity, mini vegetable gardening can be practical and ornamental. Containers can fit almost anywhere in the landscape, such as porches, balconies, roof tops and that spot on your property where nothing seems to fit.

Tomato Bucket Gardening. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

There’s practically no limit to the kinds of containers one can use for mini vegetable gardening. Some examples are pots and pans, milk jugs, hollow concrete blocks, bushel baskets, trash cans, barrels, buckets and even plastics bags and “to go” food containers. As long as the container will hold soil and let excess water drain, you’re good to garden.

So, what can I use as a growing medium? Traditional garden soil will work fine. Mixing garden soil 1:1 with mushroom compost is also acceptable. Adding lightweight components to the soil mixture such as perlite or vermiculite will make it easier if you need move the container from time to time. This will also help with drainage. Sprinkling a handful of 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 fertilizer and gardening lime into the mixture will give plants much needed nutrients for development.

This growing medium will not require fertilizer applications very often. A small amount every two to three weeks should be adequate for most vegetable plants. Whether the fertilizer you choose is solution or dry form, be sure to use small amounts and water the product thoroughly into the root zone. A heavy application of fertilizer may cause plant burn.

So what vegetable crops grow best in containers? Most any crop will do well in containers. Some examples are tomato, pepper, eggplant, collard, cabbage, turnip, mustard, strawberry, broccoli, cauliflower and many herbs. Container gardening is a fun and rewarding hobby. You’ll enjoy both the activity and the delicious produce you’ve grown.

For more information contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article was provided by Extension’s Emeritus Vegetable Specialist Jim Stephens of UF/IFAS Extension. More information can be found at this website:

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.