The Jackson County Master Gardeners are hosting “Permaculture: An Introduction” on Saturday, April 29. Join us from 9AM to 2PM on Saturday, April 29 at the Jackson County Extension Office (2741 Penn Ave., Ste.#3, Marianna, FL) to learn the basics of permaculture. What is permaculture you might ask? Basically, it is the utilization of edible plants in your landscape to create a food forest. The workshop is $20 and includes lunch. To register or for more details please contact Matt Lollar at email@example.com, (850)482-9620, or come by the Jackson County Extension Office.
Are you an avid gardener and looking to step it up a notch? Are your gardening eyes bigger than your dinner plate? If you have ever considered selling your bounty for market, you will certainly need to do your homework! One such step you can take is to attend the UF/IFAS Panhandle Extension Team’s So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series.
There’s a lot to know if you want to get into this business! This series aims to introduce new or potential farmers to innovative and environmentally safe production practices, concepts of soil and water management, integrated pest management, how to grow for a farmers’ market, and farm financial management.
Agricultural professionals are actually in high demand. There is an estimated 60,000 highly skilled jobs in agriculture available annually, but only about half of these positions are being filled by graduates in agricultural fields. Additionally, Florida’s farmers are an aging group, and there was an 8% decrease in the number of farms and 26% decrease in acres of cropland from 2002 to 2012.
Fortunately, demand has greatly increased in recent years for locally produced specialty crops, meats, and dairy. There has also been an increase in the number of direct marketing opportunities and small farmers have been able to adopt new technologies, such as season extension techniques and local online marketing, to generate more revenue on small acreages.
The UF/IFAS Extension Panhandle Agriculture Team is hosting the So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series to assist beginning or novice farmers as they navigate the many challenges of getting started.
If you are interested in attending, please register on the So You Want to be a Farmer? Eventbrite page. The cost is $10 per session, with sessions at multiple locations within the east Florida Panhandle.
Please see workshop dates and further details below:
Plants have specific ways of telling gardeners that there is a problem, but not all plant symptoms lead us directly to the cause. During drier conditions, we often use wilting leaves as an indicator that water is needed. This can be a reliable symptom that the soil is lacking moisture but it is not always the case. Wilting leaves and herbaceous branches actually tell us that there is not adequate water in the plant. It does not necessarily indicate lack of moisture in the soil.
There can be many reasons why water is not being absorbed by roots and moved to tissues in the plant. The obvious place to start is by checking soil moisture. If soil is powdery several inches deep around the plant, water is likely needed. However, if you ball the soil up in your hand and it holds together, there may be another reason for lack of water reaching the upper plant parts. The harder part is determining why the root system is not taking up water. Causes can be a rotted root system from too much water, a poorly developed root ball that has circling or kinked roots, and even problems in the soil such as compaction. Insects, diseases, and other pathogens can also injure root systems preventing the uptake of water.
So before automatically grabbing the hose or turning on the sprinkler, do a little soil investigation to make sure that the plant wilt is really indicating lack of water in the soil. If you need help in your diagnosis, always contact your local Extension office.
Do you have a bare spot that you would like to see go away? How about a problem getting something to grow in a particular area? I’m not talking about that receding hairline or bald spot, I’m talking about your lawns and gardens. Many residents have these problems, whether it is too much shade under our beautiful oaks, that stubborn orange clay, or that hot, dry sand. Often times, the best remedy for these situations is to use mulch. Mulch is a versatile tool in the home landscape that provides many benefits while adding aesthetic beauty.
Some of the benefits of using mulch in your landscape include retaining soil moisture, reducing the amount of weeds, insulating the soil (keeps it warm during cold months and cool during the warm season), improving soil health through decomposition, and protecting plants from mower and/or trimmer damage. In addition, mulch can help protect the quality of local lakes and streams by reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff. Therefore, not only can it improve your yard, but it can also help minimize impacts to our precious natural resources.
When purchasing mulch, there are many options available. Local lawn and garden shops offer many different types of mulch based on their origin (type of wood the mulch comes from), texture (shredded vs. nuggets), color, and, of course, cost. When considering these options, here is some information to help you choose:
- Origin. Cypress mulch comes from the harvesting of natural cypress wetlands and it not recommended by the University of Florida Florida-friendly Landscaping Program. Pine bark mulch is produced from the paper/pulp industry as a marketable byproduct. Pine needle mulch is harvested from pine tree farms as the trees mature to harvestable size.
- Plant Needs. Pine mulch (either bark or needles) can lower the pH of your soils as it breaks down over time. This is great for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, gardenias, and blueberries, but may affect species that require a high pH.
- Texture. The coarser the texture, the longer the mulch will last. Finely shredded mulches breakdown quicker than coarse mulches, such as bark nuggets. As the mulch breaks down, it adds organic content to your soil, thus improving soil health.
If you want to save money, you can often contact local tree trimming companies for their hard day’s work. As they trim or remove trees, the smaller material is shredded into mulch and they are often willing to drop it off in your yard instead of paying for its disposal. It is best to allow this freshly shredded mulch to cure for some time before placing it in your garden beds since freshly shredded mulch can temporarily reduce the availability of nitrogen in the soil.
When using free mulch options, be aware that weed seeds may be present.
Be sure to apply the mulch in a two to three inch layer in your landscape beds or around trees and shrubs. It’s not a bad idea to aerate any old mulch already present to prevent matting or compaction. This can be done with a rake or pitchfork.
So cover up that soil to improve the look and fertility of your landscapes and to reduce erosion and stormwater runoff. If you have any questions about mulch, more information is available at the Florida-Friendly Landscaping website: http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu.
Dirt, earth, humus, terra firma, soil—no matter what you call it, the ground below us is one of the most important substances on, well, Earth. As children, most of us stomped in mud puddles, dug holes, and played in sand boxes—the tactile experience of moving dirt around seems to appeal to humans innately. Just last weekend a local charity raised thousands of dollars by setting up an obstacle course for adults (and kids) called the “Mud Run,” with participants exiting the race completely covered in mud.
Despite how much fun it can be to play in, the humble soil often gets overlooked. Mixtures of clay, sand, and loam seem less exciting when competing for attention with more charismatic natural phenomena such as colorful flowering plants or powerful top predator animals. Partially because of this status, soil scientists and agronomists declared 2015 the “International Year of Soils” with the goal of educating the general public on soil’s importance.
While most of us don’t think about soil on a regular basis, it is the literal foundation for producing healthy food and much of our clothing, along with fuel sources and many medicinal products. Without the small organisms and insects living in the soil to break things down, everything that ever died could still be slowly decaying on the surface of the earth. Soil is the primary player in recycling and making crucial nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium available to plants. If you’ve ever tried to grow vegetables in the Panhandle, you know the high sand content and low nutrient levels of many of our native soils leave much to be desired. Gardeners know that a mix of organic materials is necessary to give soil enough structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient sources to provide plant roots a healthy growing environment.
Soils are crucial to agricultural production, but they also play important environmental roles. On a global scale, soils are a “sink” for carbon and help combat climate change. At the same time, soils help reduce pollution through filtration and store water to recharge our drinking water aquifers. The water absorbed within healthy soils can help protect communities from both drought and flooding.
Pollution and erosion are among the biggest threats to healthy soil, and governmental agencies at all levels devote considerable funds and staff to protecting this life-giving limited natural resource. To learn more about soil and how to test for soil nutrients and pH, talk to your local Extension agent. There are many great online resources devoted to soil science, such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s new “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign, the USDA’s online soil surveys, and the UF IFAS Soil & Water Science Department newsletter, “Myakka.”
The kids are back to school and you know what that means – everyone in the house will soon come down with the sniffles and a sore throat. But what if when the kids came home, Jack went straight to his room, Susie to her room, Dad went to work in the garage, and Mom read in the office? This separation – along with good hand washing techniques – may be what prevents the entire house from turning into a sick ward. Since humans are very closely related genetically, we are susceptible to many of the same diseases. Well, believe it or not, plant families operate very similarly. If you keep planting crops together that are in the same plant family, they will be susceptible to the same diseases.
Although it can be challenging to keep your family from getting sick, there are certain practices in the garden that can go a long way in keeping your vegetable plants disease free and healthy. One easy step you can take is implementing a crop rotation. By separating crops that are in the same family during the season and not planting the same plant families in the same locations year after year, you not only help prevent diseases, but it will also help control insects, balance nutrients, and improve the condition of your soil.
Probably the most important reason to use a crop rotation system is to prevent plant diseases. For example, if you grow tomatoes in the same section of your garden year after year, certain pathogens that attack tomatoes, such as some bacterial spots and blights, can overwinter in your garden, and will have an easily accessible host (next year’s tomatoes) the following spring. Tomatoes are in the nightshade family, along with crops such as potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. If these crops are planted in the same location, they then become susceptible to the same pathogens, and the cycle continues.
Many pests in the garden are also attracted to many of the same crops. For instance, the mustard or brassica family, which includes vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards, and turnips, easily attract aphids. By regularly rotating your brassicas, you can help break the life cycles of these garden pests.
Another important aspect of crop rotation is considering the fertility and health of your soil. Different crops require different types and amounts of nutrients to grow. Legumes, such as peas and beans, actually “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere, which can increase the nitrogen in your soil, reducing your need to add fertilizers. You would then want to follow legumes with plants that require a lot of nitrogen, such as lettuce or broccoli. Subsequently, follow heavy feeders with light feeding root vegetables, such as onions or carrots, which are good nitrogen “scavengers.”
Root crops also help break up the soil, which is then advantageous to legumes, which thrive in loose soil. Growing leguminous “cover crops,” such as clovers and alfalfa, is an excellent way to improve the fertility and organic matter content of your soil. Incorporate the biomass of the cover crops into your soil prior to seed production for optimum benefits.
Remember that the key to both a healthy garden and a healthy diet is diversity! Incorporating many different botanical families into your garden will help break disease life cycles, attract beneficial insects, effectively utilize soil nutrients, and improve soil composition. In turn, eating many different types of vegetables will ensure that you are getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Which, by the way, will help keep your family healthy and strong and able to combat those pesky colds!