Potting soil, potting mix, garden soil, topsoil. The bags are all sitting side-by-side on the shelf at the garden center. Your challenge is to figure out which one you need for your project. What’s the difference? To begin with, none of them are dirt. The Soil Science Society of America defines dirt as “displaced soil”, the dead nuisance material left on your hands after working with soil. Soil is a blend of sand, silt, clay and organic matter. It is alive with nutrient and water holding components. But, all soil is not equal.
Soil contains decayed organic remains. It may be composted leaf tissue and/or microorganisms. The terms potting soil and potting mix are often used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference. Potting soil contains compost or the flora responsible for the breakdown process. Potting mix is soil-less. It is a blend of sphagnum moss, coir, bark, perlite and/or vermiculite. While these are natural occurring materials, they are in their original state. No decomposition has occurred. In the absence of compost, the resulting potting mix is sterile and free of fungus spores and insect eggs. Potting mixes are excellent choices for container growing, especially for house plants. The sphagnum moss, coir and bark hold and release water and nutrients, while the vermiculite or perlite keep the mix loose and well-drained. Some blended products add microbes, which then requires the word soil be added to the packaging. These are still suitable for potted plants.
But, if the potting soil is made from mostly compost, the potential of having poor drainage and fungus gnat problems increases substantially. The only containers these type of potting soils should be used in are raised gardens. Depending on the compost source, these soils can sour, grow mushrooms or become extremely hard.
Garden soil is a blend of soil and soilless ingredients. It can be used in very large containers (24” or greater) or added to native soils to enrich planting areas.
Then there is topsoil. It varies widely in composition and quality. Use it to fill holes in the yard, build berms or mix it will compost to increase water retention in dry garden areas.
So, when standing in the store comparing prices, don’t let price dictate your purchase. To keep your containerized plants doing well, do some bag reading. Choose the product that has aged forest products, sphagnum moss and perlite. Use the soils made from bio-solids and composted materials to improve the sand in the yard. When you’re done, go wash the dirt off your hands.
The weather is warmer and plans and planting for spring vegetable gardens are in full swing. Last week many vegetable gardening topics were addressed in our Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE program. Here are all the links for all the topics we discussed. A recording of last week’s webinar can be found at: https://youtu.be/oJRM3g4lM78
Home grown Squash. Gardening, vegetables. UF/IFAS Photo by Tom Wright.
Our moderators talked about some of their favorite tomato varieties. Josh Freeman is partial to Amelia, a good slicing tomato. Matt Lollar shared some of the best tomato varieties for sauce: Plum/Roma types like BHN 685, Daytona, Mariana, Picus, Supremo and Tachi. For cherry tomatoes, Sheila Dunning recommended Sweet 100 and Juliette.
Whatever variety you choose, Josh says to pick when it starts changing color at the blossom end and bring it indoors to ripen away from pests.
If the beneficials are not numerous enough to control your pests, maybe a natural approach to pest control can help. Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in197
Last spring, we were all ready to host another Open House and Plant Sale on Mother’s Day weekend. When the realities of the pandemic became clear, we canceled the event for the safety of everyone involved. We typically have more than 500 visitors and dozens of volunteers on site. This year we are happy to announce we have adapted our annual fundraiser to a monthly learning and growing opportunity for the whole community.
Master Gardener Volunteer Jeanne Breland is growing native milkweed in her monarch exclusion fortress for a Plant with Purpose talk and sale in the spring. Previous years’ milkweed have been eaten by monarch caterpillars before the sale so Jeanne has built her fortress to get the best results. Photo by Rachel Mathes
Our Master Gardener Volunteers will be teaching Thursday evening classes on particular plant groups throughout the year in our new series: Plant with Purpose. Topics will range from milkweed to shade plants to vegetables and herbs for different seasons. Attendees can attend the talks for free and grow along with us with the purchase of a box. These boxes are modeled after community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes you can purchase from local farms. Buyers will get a variety of the plants discussed in the plant lesson that week. For example, in our first event, Growing a Pizza Garden, we will have two tomato plants, two pepper plants, and one basil plant available for $20. Throughout the year, prices and number of plants will vary depending on the topic.
We hope with this new model of presentations and plant sales will enable us to remain Covid-safe while still bringing horticulture education to the community. Classes will be held on Thursday evenings from 6-7 pm via Zoom. Register on our Eventbrite to get the Zoom link emailed to you before each talk. Plant pick up will be the following Saturday from 10 am to noon. Master Gardener Volunteers will load up your plant box in a contact-free drive thru at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office at 615 Paul Russell Rd.
Propagation of angel wing begonia and other plants by Joan Peloso, Master Gardener Volunteer.
Master Gardener Volunteers are already growing plants for you to purchase throughout the year. Landscape plants, herbs, vegetables, shrubs and even trees will be available later in the year. Funds raised from this series help fund our Horticulture programming. Some notable programs that will benefit from Plant with Purpose include our Demonstration Garden, 4-H Horticulture Club, the Veterans’ Garden Group at the VA Tallahassee Outpatient Clinic, and various school gardens we help support throughout Leon County.
In the last year, we have adapted many of our programs to meet virtually, and even created new ones like our Wednesday Webinar series where we explore different horticulture topics twice a month with guest speakers from around the Panhandle. While we still can’t meet in person to get down in the dirt with all of our community programs, we hope that the Plant with Purpose series will help fill the hole left by our cancelled Open House and Plant Sale. Join us for the first installment of Plant with Purpose on Thursday March 18th from 6-7pm. Pick up for purchased plant boxes will be Saturday March 20th from 10am-noon.
Carrots are synonymous with a few things: Bugs Bunny, old wives’ tales about improving eyesight, and the color orange. For centuries, orange colored carrot varieties have been the industry standard and still dominate store shelves. These days though, choices for consumers are ever expanding and thankfully home garden carrot variety selection has participated in this phenomenon! With a little searching, gardeners can now source and plant any color and/or type of carrot they desire. For instance, this winter, I planted carrots of various types in various shades of orange, purple, and red. Through this experience, I also found that not all colored carrots look, cook, or perform the same. The following is a quick primer on carrot types followed by my review of the four varieties ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, and ‘Malbec’ after a season of growing.
There are three main types of carrots regardless of color: Imperator, Nantes, and Chantenay. Imperator types are the extra-long, durable, sweet tasting carrots most often found in stores and are suited best to deep, loose soils. Nantes type carrots are medium length and cylindrically shaped, often with a blunt tip. Sometimes called “storage” carrots, Nantes types are easy to grow and tend to store well for long periods of time after harvest and retain their flavor well. Finally, Chantenay type carrots are excellent performers in shallower beds or soils as they are a bit shorter, possessing a conical shape with roots wider at the top and tapering to the tip, making a deep soil bed a bit less critical. I primarily grow Imperator and Nantes types as I find they give you a little more bang for the buck if you have a deeper (>6”) raised bed. Now, on to the variety reviews.
‘Bolero’ – I always have this carrot in my garden. An extremely versatile Nantes type carrot that has been a consistently high yielder for me whether I grow it in pots or in a traditional raised bed. Typical for a Nantes type, ‘Bolero’ stores very well in the refrigerator and will change your culinary life if you’ve only ever eaten carrots purchased from a store. They are excellent either fresh or cooked, with a complex, sweet taste. If I could only grow one carrot, it would be this one.
‘Malbec’ – Colored carrots have a poor reputation as far as flavor is concerned. ‘Malbec’ is the first non-orange carrot that changed my mind. This Imperator type is as flavorful as they come, deep red throughout, and is easy to grow. For some reason, ‘Malbec’ has been hard to come by the last two years, but if you spot seeds in a catalogue, online, or on a store shelf, it is well worth a purchase!
‘Red Sun’ – Winter 2020 was my first experience with ‘Red Sun’, a brand-new Nantes type carrot from Bejo Seeds. I only planted this variety because I initially could not source ‘Malbec’. Having said that, I was very pleased with ‘Red Sun’. The carrots were extremely vigorous, had excellent top and root growth and mostly held their own with ‘Malbec’ flavor-wise in the kitchen also. I would purchase ‘Red Sun’ again!
‘Deep Purple’ – Wow, they weren’t kidding when they named this variety! Most purple carrots are colored on the exterior but fade to a “normal” orange at their core. Not ‘Deep Purple’! This Imperator type is strikingly dark purple, almost black. Even the tops have a purple hue to them! Cooking them was also an interesting experience. Most colored veggies, peppers, carrots, and others lose their hue when cooked. Not this variety. Not only did ‘Deep Purple’ retain its color after cooking, my hands and cutting board turned a shade of indigo when preparing and, once put in a pan to sautee with other veggies, the juice from ‘Deep Purple’ dyed all the other veggies a deep violet! While I wouldn’t grow ‘Deep Purple’ as my main crop carrot, it definitely has a place in the garden as a tasty novelty.
Carrots are among the easiest to grow, most rewarding vegetables in the winter garden. Next fall, plant a variety of carrots in your home garden and enjoy the many types, colors and flavors that this tasty veggie has to offer! For more information on the above mentioned varieties, home carrot gardening in general, or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office. Happy Gardening!
Escambia County Master Gardener Volunteer Carol Perryman shares information for you to consider growing your own Bay laurel tree.
Laurus nobilis, commonly known as bay laurel, is an aromatic tree native to the western Mediterranean and it yields the bay leaves used in cooking. Mature leaves are leathery and dark green. Most are 3 to 4 inches in length with minute margin serrations. Small, inconspicuous yellowish-white blooms may appear in summer followed by a tiny fruit which turns black as it dries. Bay laurel is salt tolerant and can be grown on barrier islands.
Dark green bay leaves. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
The bay laurel tree is called daphne in Greece. Greek mythology says that Apollo, the sun god, fell in love with the nymph Daphne. Her father took action and turned her into a laurel tree. To remember Daphne, Apollo wore a laurel wreath and the tree came to represent honor and glory. Greek and Roman heroes and scholars were crowned with laurel wreaths. The earliest Olympic champions in 776 BC wore garlands of fragrant bay leaves. The tree was considered good luck, but the death of a bay tree was considered an omen of things to come.
Bay laurels are slow-growing and show variation in growth habits. Most have a dense and shrubby appearance with multiple shoots from the base while some have a single trunk. Under ideal conditions, planted in the ground, the bay tree can reach 25 feet or higher, but most commonly grow to about 6 feet. In our zone, 8B, bay laurels can grow in the ground if planted in a sunny southern or eastern exposure location near a wall or building for cold protection.
Bay laurel plants like well-drained, rich soil. If the bed is properly prepared, additional fertilizer is rarely needed. Bay laurels will survive light frosts and the infrequent hard freeze if it is not for a prolonged period. More mature trees can also freeze to the ground and come back from the rootstock. Young trees should be protected from cold stress for several years until they are at least a foot tall before planting in the ground.
A bay laurel trained as a tree. Photo Credit: Karen Russ, Clemson University Extension
Bay laurels can also be grown indoors in containers in areas with strong natural lighting. Clay or wooden containers with many drainage holes are preferred. Plants should be fertilized regularly with complete fertilizer. In the summer, time-release fertilizer works best due to frequent watering. However, fertilizers too high in nitrogen will produce lush foliage with little flavor.
Bay laurel is a favored container-grown street plant in Europe. It has historically been found in gardens as a tree, a hedge, a topiary, or a focal point in an herb garden. Bay trees are only now gaining popularity in the United States. It was awarded the herb of the year in 2009.
Bay laurel has a reputation of being frustrating and difficult to propagate which results in very high prices for starter plants. To propagate use semi-hard wood cuttings and snap from branches rather than clipping. Strip the lower leaves and dip cutting in a rooting hormone. Stick in small pots filled with a fine-textured medium. If a knob forms at the end in a few weeks, then roots may form within a few weeks to several months. In recent years, plants have been more readily available in nurseries and even at large box stores.
Bay laurel is one of the primary culinary herbs in the garden. The culinary history has been documented for thousands of years. The leaves are treasured and used in many cuisines. Fresh leaves are tough but dried leaves are hard and brittle. Leaves are added at the beginning of cooking. Both fresh or dried are usually removed after cooking before food is served to prevent the risk of choking. Much is said about fresh versus dried bay leaves. I usually use fresh leaves because I have them available. I think they have a wonderful flavor. I use equal amounts of fresh or dried. Soft fresh leaves (petioles and midribs removed) are great chopped in salad dressings. Chopped leaves are also good in butters and cheeses with other herbs. Cajun cuisines use bay leaves to flavor rice and seafood. Bay is a primary element of bouquet garni, a bouquet of herbs, used in French cuisine. Bay goes in meats, soups, stews, vegetables, pasta, potatoes, and sometimes in custards and dessert sauces. Like parsley and marjoram, bay laurel is called a “liaison” herb which helps contrasting herb flavors blend rather than fight each other.
There are many plants that look like and smell like the bay laurel. Red bay, Persea borbonia, is native throughout our region and a substitute for bay laurel. Red bay is best used fresh. Its fragrance and flavor dissipate quickly if dried. This is one of the only substitutes. Others are poisonous or have little to no flavor. Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay, authors of Southern Herb Growing, wrote, “A word to the wise: Be wary of collecting and using any wild plant as flavoring or food unless you’re absolutely sure of its safety. Just because a plant is called some type of bay or laurel does not mean it is edible.” Some are highly poisonous.
If you enjoy good food, you have enjoyed bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, whether you knew it or not. It’s time to grow your own beautiful and fragrant bay laurel tree. This will be a wonderful addition to your garden and to your kitchen.
Grow your own horseradish in your home garden. You can then harvest roots to make a delicious, spicy sauce for your favorite dish. Learn outdoor care and kitchen prep with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County. #gardentotable #homegrown #homegardening