Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

We all must begin somewhere in horticulture, including growing yummy vegetables of your own to enjoy and share.  This activity, or is it passion, has a long colorful history while most of the time provides an exceptional food source.  It can be a bit daunting the first time you try and maybe even the others to follow with determining what, when, where and how to plant for a future harvest.

Raised Bed Vegetable Garden with Drip and Black Plastic. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, UF/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa

Selecting that convenient site in full sun easy with access to check on the plants progress.  Things you will need to consider are the number of hours of direct sun the garden area will receive.  Most garden vegetables will need at least eight hours of sunlight.  Many of the leafy greens can be grown with less than eight hours with the least amount of sun at six hours.  All others will need eight or more hours of sunlight.  Water is a critically important part of successful vegetable garden.  Too little water and the plants will not survive well and produce little and too much will reduce or end plant production.  A general rule is one inch of water a week during the growing season.  This can come from rain or irrigation and likely is a combination.

Mid-Spring Production with Managed Irrigation. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer – UF/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa

Planning your garden before doing anything else is critically important.  Take out a paper and pencil and sketch out how you want to plant your garden and what you want to grow.  Start by drawing rows and labeling each row.  Think about spacings between plants in the rows and between rows.  Do you plan to plant everything in the ground, raised beds or on a trellis?  More effective space utilization can occur by planting two- or three-foot-wide beds to plant multiple narrow rows that can be managed and harvested from both sides of the bed.  Some plants to think about growing this way are leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, onion and others.

Going vertical to grow vine type plants like beans, cucumbers, early spring peas and others can be a fun part of gardening.  This type of gardening allows for more space use over the same ground area.  Other plants can be grown in the same bed depending on the light.

Multiple Types of Raised Beds. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, UF/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa

If you have interest in growing with raised beds, there are a number of materials that are used to build the beds.  First do not use old railroad ties as they will leach chemicals into the soil that the vegetables can possibly take up or contaminate your soil.  I have seen all kinds of creative materials used including cedar wood, plastic boards or preformed beds, even old whiskey barrels with legs built under.  Do not forget all kinds of planting containers are available in the marketplace.  Make sure there are drain holes in the bottom to allow the water to properly move through.

This is just the beginning of vegetable gardening.  Other things to plan involve when to plant, what to plant, what is the budget, use seeds or transplants, depth of planting, watching for plant pests, harvest, storage and so on.  Enjoy your gardening adventure!





Charapita Pepper, A Unique Flavor in the Garden

Charapita Pepper, A Unique Flavor in the Garden

charapita pepper fruit

Fruit of the charapita pepper. Image Credit: Stephanie Gainer, UF / IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

As spring has officially sprung, my mind has been turning to what delectable delights we may be able to grow this year in our Extension Demonstration Vegetable Garden. A few years ago, I was introduced to the very flavorful pepper, aji charapita (to be referred to as charapita) by one of my master gardener volunteers, Stephanie Gainer. When we met Stephanie and I discovered we both shared a love for spicy cuisine, so she introduced me to the charapita. I thought I had heard of all the peppers in cultivation, but when I heard this unusual flavorful pepper, I was astonished!

The charapita pepper is a small pea sized pepper that begins purplish brown and is a bright orange/yellow when ripe. It is a native of the Peruvian Amazon and holds the designation of being the most expensive pepper when sold by dry weight. Reasoning for this is two-fold, since it is very difficult to germinate, and the fruit is very small in size. They also require warm nights to fruit, so production is not suited for every climate. Also, we have found that they do best in the central Florida Panhandle when given afternoon shade after 6-8 hours of full sun in the morning. Aside from these requirements, cultivation is very similar to other hot peppers. As a compact plant, it is ideal for container culture.


Large but compact charapita pepper plant in a container.

Large but compact charapita pepper plant in a container. Image Credit: Stephanie Gainer, UF / IFAS Master Gardener Volunteer

When germinating seed, it is recommended to grow them indoors, 8-12 weeks before the last frost date in your area, in a very sunny location with a heating pad at the base of the starting pots.  Once temperatures are consistently above 50°F during the night it is ok to set them out in the garden.

As with other hot peppers, they should be fertilized with a standard vegetable fertilizer blend at planting and periodically thereafter based on the needs of the plant in ones individual garden.

Charapita has a unique citrus and tropical fruit aroma and taste, providing the usual heat associated with cayenne peppers (about 50,000 Scoville heat units). It is often used fresh in small amounts when flavoring rice and seafood dishes but is also used as a dried ingredient for chili and grilled meat preparations. Some have said it is best added at the end of cooking. Most likely, it would be an excellent addition added fresh to finely chopped salads, to spice up traditional chimichurri or in Pico de Gallo.

In the central Florida Panhandle, we have been unsuccessful at overwintering plants so far, but others by the coast or in central or south Florida might have more success.

For more information about growing peppers in your home garden, please follow this link for a Gardening Solutions publication on the topic.

An Extension colleague of mine, Gary Bachman of Mississippi State University, has penned this excellent article about specialty peppers with a great pickling recipe for charapita. Happy growing!

Starting Early in the Garden!

Starting Early in the Garden!

Some of the many benefits of starting your own home garden are having fresher, more nutritious produce, the positive effects on physical and mental health, increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and a potential cost savings. Also there are many advantages to starting a garden in the spring with transplants. You avoid bad weather, achieve earlier and higher yields, avoid insect and disease issues, and can choose the best and strongest plants to add to your garden.

Using a self-watering container is an excellent option if you find yourself away from the garden this summer. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Using a self-watering container is an excellent option if you find yourself away from the garden this summer. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Now is the time to start planting seeds indoors for warm season crops such as tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, okra, summer squash, watermelon and many more. It is important to consider the number of days to harvest, planting zone, and location to plant. Buy seeds from a reputable source and check the expiration dates/sell-by dates and follow the packet.

For some vegetables, buy transplants from your local nursery. Photo by Molly Jameson.

When seeding the containers follow instructions for the seeding rates, spacing and depth on your seed packet. Smaller seeds can be broadcast over the surface and larger seeds will need to be covered with soil. Temperature and humidity are important for germination. Your packet will be specific on how deep to plant the seeds and a range of how long it will take to germinate.  Label your container with the vegetable name and date seeded. You may find yourself like me and thinking you will remember what it is only to be guessing what you have as it germinates! 

Most seeds started indoors will be ready for the garden in 4 to 6 weeks. Transplants must be hardened off first which means you should reduce the amount of water and stop fertilizing 1-2 weeks before they are ready to go into the garden.  The seedlings will need a good bit of sun/light and moisture once they germinate to avoid leggy and stretchy plants.

The next step is to care for your transplants. As you have taken the time to seed them, watch them grow, and then put the plants into their new home it is important to set them up for success. Monitor the transplants for insect and disease on a weekly basis. Make sure the garden is free of weeds before the plants go into the ground. Weeds will fight for the same water and nutrients as the transplants. Transplant when the environmental conditions are best. This means to plant them in the morning, on a cloudy/overcast day, and when there is not a big storm in the forecast. When taking the little transplant out of the pot be careful to not disturb the roots and do not pack the soil around the roots.

If you have any questions on spring gardening please contact your local extension office for more information.


Garden to Table: The Southern Way Event March 26th 9-12pm

Garden to Table: The Southern Way Event March 26th 9-12pm

This is the third session in a 3-part series focused on growing and cooking food from your own garden.

About this event

Do you want to grow vegetables such as okra, peas and summer squash? Join us for a workshop focusing on how to best grow and care for your summer vegetable garden and learn some new recipes to make with your harvest!

Participants will have the chance to taste several foods and will take home a variety of seeds and starter plants.

For persons with disabilities requiring special accommodations, please contact the Extension Office (TDD, via Florida Relay Service, 1-800-955-8771) at least five working days prior to the class so that proper consideration may be given to the request.

The University of Florida (UF), Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide educational information without discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.

More Gardening Tips for February & March

More Gardening Tips for February & March

Are you “chomping at the bit” to get started gardening this year, but not sure what you can do at this point? Well, good news, there’s plenty of things that can be done whether landscaping or vegetable gardening is your passion.

new potatoes

“New” potatoes grown in Florida. Photo Credit: C. Hutchinson, UF/IFAS

Temperatures can drop significantly in the Panhandle this month, and with short notice. If you want to enhance your flower beds, be sure to use annual bedding plants that can withstand the chill. Dianthus, pansy, viola and dusty miller are some good suggestions to plant. It’s a good time to plant bulbs too. Dahlias, crinum and agapanthus are good choices this time of year. Be sure to provide adequate mulch and water during this cold weather month. There are plenty of trees and shrubs that are beginning to bloom this time of year also. If you’re like me, your allergies will tell you this too. Red maple and star magnolia, just to name a couple, will soon be in bloom.

As for vegetable gardening, the potato is a good choice for Florida gardens. As Americans, we consume approximately 125 pounds per person a year. Potato farming is done commercially in Florida, but mostly with “new” potatoes. These are the small, rounded immature potatoes that have a thin skin and are perfect for low country boils.

It’s February, so it’s Irish potato planting season. The planting season for this cultivar for the Panhandle is from February 1st to mid-March. Sweet potatoes can be planted beginning in late March through June. A hundred pounds of seed potatoes should yield approximately ten bushels. Buy healthy certified seed potatoes from a garden center. Avoid using table stock potatoes. Often, table stock will not sprout successfully. Store bought potatoes are often treated with sprout inhibitors too. This treatment can cause development issues if used as seed potatoes.

Raised beds, at least 6”, are the best way to grow potatoes. Be sure to fertilize the bed soil mixture and fertilize again down furrows when planting. Irish potatoes require copious amounts of fertilizer. For fertilizer, use a general, complete formulation like 10-10-10. Before planting, be sure to dust the seed potatoes with a fungicide to reduce the chance of decay. Plant seed potatoes 3” in depth, at 12” apart and allow for 36” row spacing.

Please take these gardening tips into consideration this month and the next. Spring is just around the corner. Happy gardening! For more information please contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS Publications, “ Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” by Sydney Park Brown, Danielle Treadwell, J. M. Stephens, and Susan Webb : and “Growing Potatoes in the Florida Home Garden”, by Christian T. Christensen, Joel Reyes-Cabrera, Libby R. Rens, Jeffrey E. Pack, Lincoln Zotarelli,Chad Hutchinson, Wendy J. Dahl, Doug Gergela, and James M. White:

Supporting information can also be found on the UF/IFAS website under “Florida Gardening Calendar” by Sydney Park Brown:

What Does a Vegetable Garden Cost?

What Does a Vegetable Garden Cost?

a mix of vegetable plants

A mixed vegetable garden. Photo Credit:

It’s never too early to start thinking about your spring vegetable garden.  Have you ever wondered how much it costs to grow your own vegetables?  Does it cost less to grow your own vegetables or buy them from the grocery store or farmers market?  A number of factors are involved with answering these questions and budgeting for your home garden.


The materials used are specific to your own vegetable garden.  If you do everything by hand you may need a hoe, rake, and spade along with a number of other tools you can use from year to year.  When budgeting for you garden you would need to think about the life expectancy of these tools.  Let’s say a $20 rake lasts for 10 years.  In that case, you would budget $2/year ($20 ÷ 10 years = $2/year) for the rake.  This might also be the case with a bag of fertilizer.  You may buy a 50 pound bag of fertilizer and use half the bag in year one and the other half in year two, so the cost of the fertilizer would be cut in half for your yearly budget.  Other materials may be purchased for just one growing season such as pine straw for weed suppression or you may buy only enough seeds for the season.


A lot of work goes into growing your own vegetables.  If you have the time and enjoy gardening then you may choose to charge yourself nothing for your work.  However, from a cost analysis perspective you may want to put a value on your work.  This will give you a better comparison to buying vegetables.


Of course you could create your own budget based on all the costs that go into gardening.  But why do that, when it’s already been done for you.  The UF/IFAS Costs and Benefits of Vegetable Gardening publication includes a Microsoft Excel Cost Workbook to help answer some of these cost questions.  This budget template is customizable, so it’s important that you consider all the costs for your vegetable garden.  If you are looking for more detailed crop budgets, there are a lot of North Florida Enterprise Budgets available from UF/IFAS.