In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, vermicomposting has quietly emerged as a simple, eco-friendly method to reduce waste and enhance garden soil health. This natural process involves specialized earthworms that convert kitchen and garden waste into nutrient-rich vermicompost, often dubbed “black gold.”
Beyond the environmental benefits, vermicomposting brings tangible advantages to your garden. When integrated into your garden soil, vermicompost enhances soil structure, improving water retention and reducing soil compaction. Moreover, it serves as a slow-release fertilizer, converting nutrients into readily available forms for plant roots. Vermicompost also enriches your soil ecosystem by introducing beneficial microorganisms that help suppress soil-borne pathogens, fostering a healthy environment for your garden and landscape plants.
Below is a summary of the components needed to successfully vermicompost at home.
Worm Bin: Choose a dark-colored, breathable bin that is no deeper than 20 inches. The size of your bin should align with the amount of food waste you produce weekly. As a general guideline, you’ll need approximately 1 sq. ft. of surface area for every pound of weekly food waste. If you’re building a vertical system, consider using three 10-gallon bins, which work well for this purpose.
Worms: You’ll need approximately 1 lb. of Eisenia fetida worm species, which equates to about 1,000 worms, for every 1 sq. ft. of surface area in your bin.
Bedding: Choose moistened carbon-rich organic materials such as newspaper strips with plant-based ink, leaf litter, shredded corrugated cardboard, or coir for bedding. Fill the bin about one-third full of bedding or create a layer no thicker than 6 inches.
Grit: To aid in digestion, mix in one handful of regular soil when you’re starting a new bin.
Food: Worms have a taste for chopped vegetable scraps and most fruits, as well as coffee filters/grounds, leaves, crushed eggshells, and plain grains. As your worm population becomes established, begin feeding them slowly and ensure the food is being consumed before adding more. Smaller food pieces, with greater surface area, are easier for worms to digest. In general, 1 lb. of worms can consume roughly 1/3 lb. of food per day once they are well-established.
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!
It is mid-summer with temperatures outside in the 90’s plus, so you may wonder why article on landscape installation considerations during this time of year. It simply is an excellent time for planning and preparing for fall and winter site prep and planting well before it arrives, reducing a time crunch when it is time to plant.
Think healthy plants for our Northwest Florida settings, proper preparation of the site before planting, and many other points to be successful with establishing a landscape that will be enjoyed by all. This article will address the use of woody ornamental plants, but many things discussed can be applied to perennials and annuals as well.
Before starting, make sure to do your homework not only on the plants and placement in the landscape, but any county, city, or homeowner association requirements to work within. Many neighborhoods have review committees for these approvals. This commitment by you when purchasing property and a home can be a part of the closing papers during the purchase. If you are required to submit for an approval before work can begin you might want to consider consulting with a professional landscape company to assist in this process. Always ask for references and sites you can visit before securing services.
Site preparation can be a afterthought, with limited funding focused on this critical area, but properly addressing it leads to healthy, vigorous plant establishment and future growth. Understanding the site from soil type and drainage, size of area, sunlight, water availability, plus needs of prospective plants goes a long way to being successful. If there are plants already established on site that may be worth keeping, be sure to include them in the consideration. Determining soil drainage, moisture retention that would be available to plants, soil pH and structure will also go a long way to determining the type of plants that work best for the site. If, for example, your site does not drain well and holds higher levels of water in the root zone area (top 12″ of soil), consider plants that grow well in wet settings. The next steps are determining soil pH and nutrient needs for general landscape plant growth performance. Many plants thrive in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0 range) while others grow best in moderately acidic settings (pH 5.0 to 6.0 range). Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your county for additional information.
The landscape site brings other considerations for plants to flourish, involving space and light. Space should be considered both above and below ground. With the above ground area, is there room for the limbs to expand in width and height? If pruning is required to manage the size, considering another plant may be a viable option. Next is the root growth and expansion opportunity for the plant. If the root area is limited in space, other options may need to be considered to mitigate compacted soils or pavement areas. Adding raised beds for better soil drainage and increased root growth room may be an option. Be sure to know your soil type and use a similar soil with characteristic that match the existing soil. If you do not, there can be incompatibility that leads to a hard pan layer between the soils reducing potential root zone establishment.
The desire to develop and establish an enjoyable landscape for all to appreciate can be a challenge, but a positive one. As a reminder, call and go visit with your local UF IFAS Extension office, there is great research information available for the asking. Enjoy your gardening experience.
Mulch provides nutrients to soil and plants, reduces weed growth, controls soil temperature, and improves the look of lawns and gardens. It gives the landscape a neat, uniform appearance and is an excellent Florida-Friendly choice for hard-to-mow areas and shady spots. One should keep a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch on plant beds. Always leave at least 2 inches of space around tree trunks to prevent rot. Create self-mulching areas under your trees by allowing fallen leaves to stay in place. Though bark and wood chips are typically the most common mulch, other forms are just as beneficial. The following are the best overall mulches for Panhandle gardeners!
Bark and Wood Chips
Bark and wood chips are frequently used on flower beds and around small bushes and shrubs. As they decay, the material provides nutrients to the soil. Both materials are inexpensive and can be found at most gardening supply stores. Cedarwood chips are popular for their repellent properties, keeping fleas and other pests away.
Pebbles and Rocks
Pebbles and rocks are effective in retaining soil moisture and minimizing weed growth. They are excellent mulch alternatives for flower beds. Rocks are economical in cooler climates, where heat retained by rock mulch can extend the growing season. Since rocks do not decompose, they don’t provide nutrients to the soil. If you’re looking for a nutrient-rich mulch alternative, rocks are not a good choice. This can be easily remedied by fertilizing your landscape to provide more nutrients. If you decide to use pebbles or rocks, keep in mind that they can be difficult to remove if you switch to a different type of mulch a season or two.
Leaves and Pine Needles
Leaves and pine needles are an affordable nutrient-rich mulch alternative. Rake and gather fallen leaves each season and redistribute them above your soil. For the best results, one should shred the leaves. Let the shredded leaves dry before adding them to your garden to reduce bacteria growth and pest infestations. Pine needles decompose and add nutrients to the soil, just like other organic forms of mulch. They work best with plants that prefer acidic soil conditions, like holly gardenias, roses, and chrysanthemums. You can buy bundles of pine needles at your local gardening store or gather them from your own trees and spread them around your garden.
Grass clippings are a cost-efficient alternative to traditional mulch. However, they must be dried out or composted before use to prevent potentially damaging heat from affecting plants. If you treat your lawn with chemicals, don’t use grass clippings in your flower or garden bed.
Compost is an affordable mulch alternative and enriches the soil by adding essential nutrients. Apply compost above your garden or lawn in a thin layer. Compost improves the soil, adding nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen to your garden. One can make it yourself with discarded vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, dead leaves, and water.
Newspapers effectively keep weeds at bay, retain moisture, and regulate soil temperatures. Newspaper is equally functional compared to traditional mulches, but is not as visually appealing as other options. Moisten the newspaper slightly before laying it above the soil so that it stays in place. Then, add a thin layer of organic mulch on top. Apply five to eight sheets of newspaper at a time. If using newspaper without another mulch on top, shred it before applying it to your garden. Newspaper is biodegradable and will deteriorate like other mulches.
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!
Photo by Molly Jameson.
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.
Organic matter is the “glue” that will hold your soil together. Photo by John Edwards.
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.
The interest and use of native plants in the landscape in Florida and the southeastern U.S. has increased significantly over the last 20 plus years. There are many benefits for including them in our landscapes including creating a wider biodiversity and enjoying the multitude of support for butterflies, wildlife, and unique color displays.
Choosing the plant species that works in landscape sites requires a few considerations like being adaptable to the site conditions, soil type and preparation, understanding the plant establishment needs, and finding plants regionally to your area.
Bald Cypress with a Saw Palmetto understory. Photo courtesy of Stephen Greer.
Develop a landscape plan that includes addressing soil and site preparation as many landscape sites are altered during the construction phase with the soil being drastically changed. In Florida many sites need soil backfill to raise the elevation for buildings, drive or parking areas to remain above flood challenges. Choosing the right plant for the right place will need to include understanding the plants’ growing environments. Do the plants perform best in well-drained drier areas or moister situations with slight flooding tolerances? Native plants have acclimated to specific soil settings over thousands of years. When selecting the plants for your landscape, perform a site analysis with soil texture, drainage, soil pH, hours of direct intense sun or shade in the growing season, air circulation in the growing area, and growing space available. Doing your homework first can save a lot of money and frustration later. Visit the local nurseries to see plant availability. Just remember many landscape settings do not always match the natural habitats where many of these plants are established in nature.
Native Muhly Grass. Photo courtesy of Stephen Greer.
Soil amendments will likely be needed to improve the soil conditions and provide optimal plant establishment and performance. Most often the soil that brought in is sandy and nutrient poor with little to no organic matter. In addition, the soils are compacted by heavy equipment during the construction phase. These factors can create native plant challenges leading to poor growth and shortened plant life spans. When the soils have been addressed according to plant needs the selected plants can be placed and the fun part begins by following the landscape plan.
With the landscape conditions likely altered with amendments, choose plants that can establish and grow successfully in these often more difficult conditions. Florida red maples (Acer rubrum), Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) and Sand Live Oaks (Quercus geminate) all can provide shade areas for future plantings. Butterflies attach to and feed on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Butterfly weed does well in well-drained sandy soils and swamp milkweed likes it moist. These are just a few of the many plants out there to consider. Just remember to visit your local nurseries and talk with them about native plants and availability. Enjoy your gardening adventure.