Although we have been enjoying a cool spring season this year, summer is just around the corner and that means it is time to plant our sweet potatoes.
Watch this short video for some tips on planting sweet potato slips into the garden:
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
The place to start is with UF’s ever popular and comprehensive Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf
Many viewers expressed interest in natural methods of raising their crops. Take a look at Organic Vegetable Gardening in Florida https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS121500.pdf
The Square Foot Vegetable Planting Guide for Northwest Florida helps plan the layout of your garden https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/leon/docs/pdfs/Vegetable-Square-Foot-Planting-Guide-for-Northwest-Florida-mcj2020.pdf
Maybe you would like the convenience of starting with a fresh clean soil. Gardening in Raised Beds can assist you. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep472 Also see Gardening Solutions Raised Beds: Benefits and Maintenance https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/types-of-gardens/raised-beds.html
Here is a guide to Fertilizing the Garden https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh025
The Florida Panhandle Planting Guide will help you decide what to plant and when: https://www.facebook.com/SRCExtension/posts/4464210263604274
The Ever-Popular Tomato
To start your journey to the best tomatoes, start with UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions – Tomatoes https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/tomatoes.html
If you are looking to grow in containers: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/leon/docs/pdfs/Container-Gardening-Spacing-Varieties-UF-IFAS-mcj2020.pdf
Vegetable grafting is gaining in popularity, so if interested, look at this Techniques for Melon Grafting: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs1257
Blossom end rot occurs when irrigation is irregular and the calcium in the soil does not get carried to the developing fruit. The U-Scout program has a great description of this common problem: https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/u-scout/tomato/blossom-end-rot.html
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.
Garden Pest Management
Let’s start with an underground pest. For those of you gardening in the native soil, very tiny roundworms can be a problem. Nematode Management in the Vegetable Garden can get you started: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/NG/NG00500.pdf
Leaffooted bugs are quite a nuisance going after the fruit. Here is how to control them: http://extension.msstate.edu/newsletters/bug%E2%80%99s-eye-view/2018/leaffooted-bugs-vol-4-no-24
Cutworms are another frustration. Learn about them here: http://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/hort/2020/02/27/cutworms-the-moonlit-garden-vandals/
Maybe your tomatoes have gotten eaten up by hornworms. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pests-and-diseases/pests/hornworm-caterpillars.html
There are beneficial creatures helping to control the pest insects. Learn to recognize and conserve them and make for a healthier environment. Natural Enemies and Biological Control: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN12000.pdf
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
Fungal and bacterial problems can also plague the garden. Go to Integrated Disease Management for Vegetable Crops in Florida for answers: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/PP/PP11100.pdf
Get control of weeds early and consult Controlling Weeds by Cultivating & Mulching https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/controlling-weeds-by-cultivating-mulching/
Companion planting is a strategy that has been around for ages and for good reason: https://www.almanac.com/companion-planting-chart-vegetables Some good flowering additions to the garden that Sheila talked about are bee balm, calendula, marigold, nasturtiums, chives, and parsley.
And Some Miscellaneous Topics…
Peppers are another popular crop. Get some questions answered here: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/vegetables/pepper.html
When can we plant spinach in Northeast Florida? http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/nassauco/2017/07/15/q-can-plant-spinach-northeast-florida/
Figs are a great fruit for northwest Florida. Get started here: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG21400.pdf and with this https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/homefruit/fig/fig.html
Last spring, I fought the good fight against a very pesky garden pest. As the pandemic ramped up, I started working remotely from home, which I figured would at least afford me the ability to scout my patch of summer squash a bit more diligently.
I was able to successfully remove a few tiny eggs that had been deposited individually on the base of the squash’s elongating bright green stems. And, since I planted early in the season, I was able to harvest a few beautiful looking – and very delicious tasting – summer squash for the dinner table. But alas, most of my hard work succumbed to my biggest garden foe: Melittia cucurbitae. Aka, the squash vine borer.
This year, I am trying a new approach. Instead of marching through my garden morning and night swatting wildly at borer moths – or repeatedly coating Baccillus thuringiensis biological insecticide spray over the squash stems every week – I am switching it up. This year, it is all about Cucurbita moschata. Aka, butternut squash.
How can this cucurbit avoid the mighty squash vine borer, you ask? Well typically, after hatching, squash vine borer larvae will quickly chew into the succulent stem of a summer squash variety. These large, hollow stems then act as an open highway for the borers, and they easily work their way up. The stems of butternut squash, on the other hand, are less palatable for the larvae. Their vining habit produces stems that are harder to navigate, thicker, and tougher than summer squash stems. Although not completely resistant, they are certainly not the borers’ preferred host plant.
And thankfully, butternut squash is quite delicious. It can be roasted to accompany just about anything, including spaghetti, lasagna, salads, chilis, and stews. It can also be blended into soups or purees to be paired with herbs and spices, such as turmeric, sage, garlic, and thyme. Or, it can be used as a filling in pies or frittatas, brushed with brown butter to sweeten up the plate as a delicious side dish, or be paired with goat cheese and crackers to be served as an appetizer.
Sometimes, simply omitting your toughest garden foe’s favorite host plant is the best path to both garden and dinner plate success.
Plant with Purpose: Written by Rachel Mathes
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.
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.
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.
To register for this event and other events at the Leon County Extension Office, please visit the Leon County Extension Office Events Registration Page.
It is late-February, so the spring growing season is just around the corner. Now is the time to be thinking about which tasty tomatoes you want to plant in your home garden! Although tomatoes are a favorite kitchen staple, they prove challenging to grow in the Florida Panhandle climate.
While many tomato diseases can kill plants, damage fruit, and reduce yields, genetic resistance or tolerance to select diseases exist. The following are three of the most common diseases and viruses home gardeners face, for which resistant and tolerant varieties exist.
Tomato Spotted Wilt (TSW) is a viral disease which is transmitted by thrips, a species of insect that is very small and not always visible when checking the garden for insect pests. They love to feed on the sugary juices of the tomato flowers, and while feeding, they have the opportunity to transmit the virus through their piercing and sucking mouth parts. Lots of different symptoms may occur with TSW. Initially growers will notice light or dark brown spots on leaves of affected tomatoes, next wilting or stunting will occur, along with brown or purple streaks on the stems. Finally, fruit will exhibit unsightly brown rings throughout. The good news is that home gardeners can get a head start on this disease by planting resistant cultivars. When shopping for seed or transplants, growers should look for plants listed with the codes TSW or TSWV, because these have demonstrated resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.
Another viral disease often found in the tomato garden is Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl (TYLC) Virus. TYLC first appeared in Miami in 1997 and was brought to Florida by infected whiteflies. Much like TSW, TYLC is spread from plant to plant by feeding whiteflies. As the name indicates, TYLC symptoms include curled leaves and stunted growth. Infected plants produce little to no fruit. Strategies to reduce the possibility of virus transmission to the garden include reducing the population of weedy plants, which may harbor whiteflies. Fortunately, resistant cultivars are available in plant catalogs, and are denoted by TYLC to indicate resistance.
Fusarium Wilt is one of the oldest diseases to affect tomatoes in the state of Florida and is caused by the fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. lycopersici races 1, 2, or 3. This pathogen is often present in regional soils and moved by wind. Once it enters the roots of tomato plants, fusarium wilt proliferates and clogs the vascular system, much like a clog in the plumbing of a building. Thus, the primary symptom is the wilting of the plant, which will first be noticeable on hot days, despite adequate irritation. Once infected, there is no cure, and infected plants should be removed and destroyed to stop the spread. The good news is that resistant cultivars are available to the various fusarium races. They are usually denoted as F-R 1, 2, or 3 in seed catalogs. Additionally, look for plants labeled VFN. These cultivars are resistant to a different kind of wilt, called verticillium, as well as fusarium and nematodes.
Fortunately, the UF / IFAS publication “Tomato Varieties for Florida—Florida “Red Rounds,” Plums, Cherries, Grapes, and Heirlooms” by Monica Ozores-Hampton and Gene McAvoy has provided us with a handy chart of tomato varieties with disease resistance. Codes in the columns indicate disease resistance to specific pathogens. While there is no single tomato variety resistant to all possible disease pathogens, planting different varieties with several different types of resistance will allow growers to hedge against attack by a number of potential disease problems. Some of the more common disease resistant tomato varieties planted in this area are ‘Quincy’, ‘Bella Rosa’, ‘Amelia’, ‘Tasti-Lee’, ‘BHN 602’, and ‘Volante’.
For a further look at the various diseases of tomato, the EDIS publication “A Series on Diseases in the Florida Vegetable Garden: TOMATO” offers more detail. Another resource UF/IFAS offers for disease diagnosis is the NFREC U-Scout website. U-Scout provides information on more than 40 potential disease issues in tomato. Additionally, any plant disease can be diagnosed through your County Extension Office or by submitting samples to the Plant Pathology Clinic, at the North Florida Research and Education Center, for only $30/sample for basic services.
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!