In case you missed it, you can watch our last session of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! that aired on October 12th by visiting our YouTube Playlist with all the past episodes of our gardening webinars.
We had a great conversation about herbs and cool season edible plants last month and this article compiles the links shared by the expert panel in the episode. Thanks for watching!
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been hot outside. Like really, scorching, hellacious, dog days hot. In this weather pattern we’ve been in, it’s hard to make yourself do non-essential stuff outside that doesn’t involve swimming and so our gardens go by the wayside. In my opinion, that’s totally okay! Give yourself a rest from the garden and landscape chores for the next couple of weeks and get your fall gameplan ready. The following are some things to think about over the next few weeks to prepare yourself for the coming cooler weather!
Get your soil tested. If you’re an in-ground vegetable gardener or just like to have an attractive lawn/landscape, performing a simple soil test can offer either peace of mind that your soil’s pH and fertility is good or give you a nudge to schedule some needed amendments. Though I don’t recommend fertilizing lawn grass this late and there’s no need to fertilize the garden before it gets planted in mid-late September, you can certainly begin to source and price fertilizer for the appropriate time based on your test results. However, now IS the perfect time to get lime out in a vegetable garden if your pH has sunk beneath the recommended 6.5. Lime takes weeks to months to begin to alter soil chemistry so the sooner the better if it is needed!
Order seeds. While I love to support local farm stores and plant nurseries, you are limited with the vegetable and flower varieties you can plant by what they have in stock. I enjoy trying new/improved and heirloom plant varieties each year and, most of the time, these can only be found by ordering online. For the latest in vegetable and cut flower varieties with a nice mix of heirloom cultivars thrown in also, I can recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and other similar purveyors – all of these are great places to look. Continue to purchase your more common standbys through local outlets but, this year get different and try new things by ordering online!
Develop a garden/landscape plan. I doubt there’s a gardener amongst us who wouldn’t like to rearrange things a bit outside. Maybe you planted your lettuce a little too closely together last year, you’ve been dreaming of installing a new flower bed, or you really want to do a full garden/landscape renovation. The best way to be successful at any of these things is to get outside (or at least look out from behind a window in the A/C), take stock of what is already there, the space that is or might be available, research what plants or varieties might do well in your yard/garden (your local UF/IFAS Extension office is a great resource for this), and begin to sketch your ideas out. This planning step WILL save you time and money by ensuring you don’t purchase too many plants, by picking plants that will do well, and ensuring you install everything at the correct time.
So, take advantage of the heat, stay inside, and work up your garden gameplan together this August – fall is just around the corner. For help with soil testing, recommendations on plant varieties to purchase, or working up a garden/landscape plan tailored to you, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Stay cool and happy gardening!
Fertilization is a subject that throws many a gardener for a loop. It can be confusing, and we in the professional horticulture world understand. This topic will almost always be approached from the prospective of nitrogen. So why does nitrogen get so much attention? What is its role in plant growth? Nitrogen is the primary driver of protein synthesis, plant metabolism, energy creation, and is the structural component in chlorophyll. These are all extremely important functions leaving little doubt as to why it’s so critical. Your plants use this resource abundantly for healthy growth. The reason it gets so much attention is owing to its frangibility in the soil. Nitrogen goes through changes once applied to soils and is readily lost to the environment. For this reason, nitrogen application needs to be timed appropriately, and your cultural practices need to be such that encourage plant uptake over losses to the environment. Fear not my friends, this article will bolster your insight into the wonderful world of nitrogen, and have your plants growing strong and healthy.
The What and Why of Nitrogen
Nitrogen is one of three macronutrients identified in every fertilizer bag as the first of three numbers. This standardized NPK labeling refers to the amount of this nutrient in the bag by percentage of total weight. Application rates should be based on this number, and how much nitrogen you’ll need to cover a specified area. which number you use is based on the equipment you have to apply more so than the plant requirements.
Nitrogen can be natural or man made. Natural sources come in the form of composts, manures, and through atmospheric deposition. The later of these sources means rain, which washes nitrogen out of the atmosphere and into your soils. Man made sources conversely come in bags and are the result of a combustion process developed by Fritz Haber, and Carl Bosch circa 1910. Either way, nitrogen will be in the form of ammonia, nitrate, ammonium, or urea. Knowing this is important as it will dictate application methodologies. For instance, urea applied to the surface will escape into the atmosphere if not incorporated into your garden.
Nitrogen type will also affect soil pH. This is especially important with ammonia-based fertilizers as residual acidity from them may lower pH. Applying the correct type will mitigate large unwanted changes in soil. Why are we concerned with soil pH? It speaks to nutrient availability and, thus how well your plants grow. It can be overwhelming, but with soil testing and a call to your extension office, it’s easy to identify the appropriate fertilizers for your application.
Reactions in Soils
Soil is often considered inert, holding plants in place while providing a pantry full of the nutrients they crave. Nothing is further from the truth. Soil is a living entity with its own physical and chemical properties. The addition of anything, including irrigation, affects these properties.
Nitrogen takes two forms in your soil aside from nitrogen source. Inorganic nitrogen is converted from soil organic matter in a process known as mineralization or added from bagged fertilizers and is available for plant uptake. Organic nitrogen is unavailable for plant uptake and will be present in the natural forms listed in the previous section. Both are susceptible to the nitrogen cycle and may be lost to the environment. This happens as water passes through soil (leaching), erosion, runoff, or is lost to the atmosphere through volatilization and may have negative effects on surrounding water bodies.
To mitigate these risks through responsible fertilizer application, irrigation management, and landscape design. Apply fertilizers when plant uptake is favorable, and only to the level required by your plants. This will be during heavy vegetative growth periods such as initial installation. Irrigate as dictated by your plant life vs on a timer. Watering is a vital practice, but often overdone. Keep water levels enough to avoid plant stress but not excessive. Doing so reduces leaching potential and will keep your plants healthier. Finally, design your landscape with Florida Friendly Landscaping principles. Integrate diverse plant life, including turfgrasses and landscaped beds. The goal here is to allow enough plant life to absorb excess storm water, and support local pollinator populations.
Nitrogen is a critical piece of your fertilizer routine. It’s important to understand how it reacts with both your plants and your soils. A little knowledge can go a long way to keeping your plants healthy while mitigating risks from over fertilization. For more information, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
Would you like to make money off your land? Are you looking to diversify your current plans on your property? Jackson County is hosting a fruit and vegetable meeting on January 26, 2023, and this just may be the perfect way to start off your new year!
When thinking about what it means to be successful in planting your garden or having fruit trees, often the first thing that comes to mind is a healthy quality crop. This starts with the health of your soil. We will have two specialists that cover soil health and the benefit of adding cover crops to your rotation during the off season. The second thing that might come to mind when wanting to be successful is how to start? how much time do I have to devote to gardening? and how much do I want to do? This meeting will also have a specialist coming to Marianna to cover how to get started on a property with a specialty crop. Even though this information may be geared towards new farmers, it could also be very useful to new land owners and community residents just wanting to do more on their property. You may find that you have so much extra produce that you want to have a little fruit stand!
There will also be a session on the importance of drip irrigation, fertigation and how to implement these practices. Drip irrigation will not only save you money in the long run with the use of less water, but it is also much better for overall plant health by reducing pest and disease problems. Fertigation is the process of adding soil amendments, water amendments and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system. This process can be both beneficial to the plants and cut back on the time it would take to fertilize by hand.
The next session on specialty vegetable and fruit crops will teach about the various exciting specialty crop opportunities in the Tri-State area such as artichokes, blackberries, Seminole pumpkins, and more. Finally, the meeting will also cover cucurbit disease updates and will be extremely useful if you already have a field or garden of watermelons, cucumbers, or squash! Come with questions! CEUs will be offered as well if you are a homeowner that holds a pesticide license.
While, the audience for this conference is primarily small to medium sized, diversified cucurbit and vegetable producers in the tri-state region including the counties in the Panhandle, Alabama, and Georgia, the residential community is welcome to attend and will truly benefit with learning about soil health, cover crops, fertigation, drip irrigation, and specialty crops. The conference will be held at the Jackson County Extension Office in the Peanut Hall. We are planning a full morning with educational sessions and lunch to follow.
This meeting will be $5 at the door and pre-registration is highly encouraged. Please call our office at 850-482-9620 to reserve your seat and if you have any questions.
Tri-State Fruit and Vegetable Meeting
Thursday, January 26, 2023, 8:00 am- 1:00 pm at the Jackson County Agriculture Offices Auditorium, 2741 Penn Ave., Marianna.
Yay, we are halfway through with August and our summer is winding down! This is the perfect time to start prepping for that fall garden. Growing a productive fall vegetable garden requires thoughtful planning and good cultural practices. This process consists of selecting a site, planning the garden, preparing the soil, choosing the seeds and plants, planting a crop, and nurturing the plants until harvest time. In the Florida Panhandle it can be a challenge to get cool season crops started; there is a balance in starting them early enough to allow them to mature (50-60 days) before a hard frost and getting them through the end of a hot summer.
August and September are the main planting times for a fall garden. There are several cool-season crops and a final crop of warm-season vegetables that can be planted. Some good warm season crops are lima beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Going into September it will be a good time to establish strawberry plants. Some good vegetables to start growing just around the corner are broccoli, carrots, cabbage, collards, mustard, and Swiss chard. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/NorthFloridaGardeningCalendar Herbs that do well are cilantro, parsley, and lemongrass. Mint, oregano, and thyme should be planted in containers as they tend to spread. Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil will also do well in September. See Herbs: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_herbs
Transplants from the local garden center will get the garden off to a fast start while seeds will offer more varieties to choose from. It is also important to think about your location. A vegetable garden can be in the ground, a raised bed, or even grown in containers. Your plants will need more than just a place to grow. They will also need sunlight, water, air, soil, fertilizer, and care. Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight. Keep an eye out for pest problems such as insects, diseases and weeds because they will continue to flourish in warm temperatures and high humidity. To help conserve soil moisture a layer of newspaper and mulch can be placed between the rows. Mulch also aids in weed control.
The result of a beautiful, successful vegetable garden is fresh produce to eat, share with neighbors, family, and friends and even the possibility to sell your harvest. With patience and practice your gardening skills will improve every year! Follow the above few tips and you will be well on your way to a great harvest! For more information about starting a fall garden or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening
There are a lot of things gardeners need to know to cultivate a beautiful landscape. Between plant zones, scientific names, soil chemistry, and pest identification, being a gardener takes curiosity and willingness to learn new things. Unfortunately, one topic that needs to be well understood, especially when it comes to applying pesticides and fertilizers, is a subject that many cringe when they hear it – mathematics!
Some of the most common mathematical concepts to have a good grasp on for gardening include area, converting decimals to percentages and vice versa, estimating volume and converting units, and determining how much fertilizer to be applied based on your fertilizer grade.
Here’s a couple tips to help you gardeners out with math.
Most often, we need to know the square footage of our gardens. Rectangles are straightforward, you multiply length (in feet) by width (in feet) to get feet squared. Since most yards are not rectangles, we sometimes need to use other shapes to best calculate the area, such as circles and/or triangles. The area (A) of a circle is , where “π” is 3.14 and “r” is the radius (half of the diameter or the distance from the center to the edge). Remember that the little raised 2 means you multiply the radius by itself twice, not by two.
Most of the time, square feet is the best area unit to use. But just in case you need to know, one acre equals 43,560 square feet. So, if you find your lawn is 10,000 square feet, that means you have 0.23 of an acre (10,000/43,560).
This one may be better understood by most, but this becomes important later when we determine fertilizer needed or doing volume conversions. Basically, any percent can be divided by 100 to convert it to a decimal that can be used easily in other calculations. For example, 15% is the same as 0.15 (15/100). The easy way to remember is that 100% is the same as one, and 50% is the same as 0.5.
Volume Estimation and Conversions
Determining volume is required when figuring out how much mulch is needed for a garden bed or soil required for a raised bed. Converting one unit to another is especially important when determining how much pesticide product is needed to prepare a mixture.
For mulch and soil, the cubic feet (cf) or cubic yards (cy) are needed to figure out how many bags or truckloads will be needed. Most bulk products are sold by the cubic yard. Since we are dealing with volume, we need three measurements, the length, width, and depth. If we want to add three inches of mulch to a 500 square foot garden, we multiply the 500 by 0.25 feet (3”/12” equals 0.25 inches) to get 125 cubic feet. That is about 62 bags of mulch from the hardware store, which are often sold in 2 cubic foot bags. If we divide 125 cubic feet by 27 (three feet in a yard so 3’ x 3’ x 3’ = 27) we now have the answer in cubic yards and find that we need about 4.5 cubic yards of mulch. One cubic yard is roughly a half of a full-size pickup truck bed.
When it comes to converting liquid volume units to help with pesticide mixtures, fortunately we have the internet to help. However, it is a good idea to at least be familiar with converting ounces to gallons and vice versa. Since 128 ounces equals 1 gallon, to go from gallons to ounces you multiply by 128. For example, 0.5 gallons equals 64 ounces (0.5 x 128). To go from ounces to gallons, we just divide by 128. For example, 192 ounces equals 1.5 gallons (192/128).
Calculating Fertilizer Needed
Okay, bear with me, as we are about to do some hard math and piece together several of the above concepts. First of all, most fertilizer rates are provided by extension resources and given in terms of pounds of a particular nutrient for a set area, usually 1,000 square feet. For example, when using slow-release fertilizer a homeowner should apply no more than one pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. To figure out how much actual fertilizer to apply to meet the recommendation, we will need 1) the recommended rate, 2) the size of the lawn, and 3) the fertilizer grade on the product (the three numbers that represent the percent N, P, and K). Our rate is one pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. The size of our lawn is 50 feet by 30 feet, so 1,500 square feet. We are going to use a 16-0-8 fertilizer. Now, here is the hard part! To figure out how much of our 16% nitrogen fertilizer will provide one pound of nitrogen, we need to convert 16% to a decimal (16/100 = 0.16) and then divide the amount of fertilizer we need by that number – 1 pound/0.16 – to find that 6.25 pounds of our fertilizer product are required for each 1,000 square feet. Since we have 1,500 square feet, we need to multiply our answer by 1.5, which gives us a total of 9.4 pounds.
Math is hard and there are usually many methods to get the same solution. When using pesticides and fertilizers in the home landscape, it’s important to make sure we’re using the right amount of materials to minimize the chance of harming ourself, our plants, and the local environment. If you need help, or would like someone to check your work, contact your local extension office.