Tag Archives: Florida vegetable garden

Money-Saving Garden Tips

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No grocery tomato can compete with a sun-ripened garden tomato. However, if that tomato cost you $32 to grow, was it worth it?

I believe that growing your own produce should not be an expensive endeavor. Gardening can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you want it to be. If you are wanting to start a garden but think it will be too expensive, look for ways to save money gardening. When thinking about how and where to save money, consider the essentials of a garden.

Gardens really just need a place, some plants, a trowel, good soil, and adequate water.

If you are just starting to garden, don’t buy a ton of equipment to get a site prepared. The cheapest way to prepare a grassy or weeded spot is to cover your future garden site with cardboard and leaves in the fall, let them smother the grass and weeds, then remove them and plant your crops in the weedless spot in the spring. If you have to till the ground, try to rent a tiller. Even better, find a friend who also wants to garden and split the rental fee. Raised beds are nice too(see some posts here and an update here) but try to find scrap wood before buying new.

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As far as plants are concerned, it is far less expensive to start your own plants from seed. Starting seeds is free if you can get seeds from gardening friends who have extras. I have an entire post on How I Get Free Seeds, be sure to read it! If you already have some seeds, you may be able to get new seeds that you want by trading with a friend. I also buy seeds in bulk from Chaver’s in Milton. Many plants can also be grown from seeds gathered from produce you buy at the grocery store. I saved seeds from a tomatillo, but you can save seeds from many other vegetables and fruits. Sometimes results may vary, but it is a very inexpensive way to get started. Another way to get plants for free is through propagation- like in my B2G3 Free Tomato post.

Of course, there was the time that I turned $.10 into $54, that was pretty awesome too.

Fancy tools are pretty, but to start a garden all you really have to own is a trowel. A few more helpful tools that I use often are a shovel, rake, hoe, and pitchfork.

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If you already have rich soil, you can plant right in that. For most of us though, some type of amendment is needed. The best soil additive is compost. You can make your own from yard and kitchen scraps. If you are new to composting, I have simple instructions in my post, Coffee to Compost-Literally!

Some think that they can just add fertilizer without nourishing the soil. Think of the soil as a living organism; you wouldn’t just feed a junk food addict some vitamins and expect them alone to fix his health, would you? If you have unhealthy soil, a blast of fertilizer will not provide lasting results.

Cover crops are a good way to suppress weeds during the heat of the summer. I found a nitrogen-fixing cover crop for just 75 cents!

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Finally, your plants will need water. You can greatly reduce water usage by planting varieties suited to your area and by planting them at the right time. I also like to try to plant seeds before a rainstorm so God can water them. Mulching, in addition to reducing competition from weeds, can help to keep valuable moisture from evaporating.

If you want to garden, don’t let money be an issue. Start small, and only buy items as you find a need. You can start a garden inexpensively using these frugal garden tips. How do you save money in your garden? Please share your tips in the comments-we can all learn from each other!

May To-Do List

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What a difference a month makes in a Florida spring garden!
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Look how much the bush beans have grown. You can actually make out the rows without straining. The tomatoes need staking, and many of the vegetables in the garden are starting to flower.

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Only big change here is that the daikon radishes on the left (white flowers) and the collards (yellow flowers) have more seed pods than flowers now. Still harvesting lots of kale, though. So yummy! My favorite kale recipe is here.

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Hopefully I will be eating fresh green beans soon. I have missed them so much. Until then, I am enjoying the delicate flowers on my bush bean plants.

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Do you see the baby zucchini? She’s so cute.

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The marigolds are showing their cheery little faces and the cauliflower even sent up exuberant blooms. When cauliflower is sold, it is sold as unopened flower buds, not as the yellow flowers above right.

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cauliflower plants in bloom with seedpods

The whole plant ends up being pretty massive, as seen here compared to my flip-flopped foot. The plants were given to a neighbor’s chickens. 🙂 I figured they would love pecking at all the seedpods.

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collards in bloom

Collards are in the same family as cauliflower; you can see that they look the same but they get really tall! Some of them were over 5 feet tall. The chickens got most of these too, but I kept one so it’s seeds could ripen.

So what’s on my to-do list?

1. I hope to harvest green beans, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes this month.

2. I plan to keep mulching to keep the weeds down. When I pulled up the rows of collards and cauliflower, I had very few weeds thanks to a mulch of oak leaves. For more reasons to mulch, you could read my post Why I Mulch.

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See all those leaves? My husband was so sweet to get them for my garden. Yes, I know, it looks pretty ghetto now, but I was pretty excited to see them. They should all be gone by the end of the month and my gardens will be super happy!

3. Most of my planting is done, but I would like to start more eggplant, basil, and okra. They really like the hot weather and I think it is here for us gardening in North Florida.

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Nothing like the smell of tomato leaves or the sight of vibrant tomato flowers to give this backyard gardener some hope.

Oh wait, look closely! Is that a baby tomato I see?!

What is happening in your garden? Know some gardeners in who are suffering from spring fever but still have snow? Share this post with them to encourage them that winter is not forever!

Coming soon-a post on great ways to save money in your garden!

Florida Raised Bed Gardening (Part 2)

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If you are going to plant spring vegetables in Florida, the time to do so is now. Did you read about starting a raised bed in my earlier post? If not, go ahead and read Part 1 and then come back. 🙂

Look at this beautiful compost that they had for their raised bed! They employed the easy method of making compost. Over about 10 years, they kept adding kitchen scraps and yard waste to a pile and let the worms do the work. 🙂

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After the raised bed is assembled and filled with compost, it is time to plan and plant.

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I just took a trowel and sketched out the spacing before we planted to be sure that everything would fit and that the spacing would work.

This couple wanted vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We planned out the placement of the vegetables, putting the tall tomatoes in the back (north) of the bed. Peppers and basil went in front of the tomatoes. Yellow squash and bush beans were in front.

Some take string and carefully measure out their square feet and plant according to this guide, but we treated the square as a whole unit, not as individual squares.

 

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In the picture above, the couple is planting their bush bean seeds in rows. They have such great compost to plant in and I am sure their plants will just love their home.

Cilantro, basil, and yellow squash were also planted from seeds. They planted tomatoes and pepper plants as young transplants rather than seeds.

With all the warm weather and spring showers that we have been getting, the seeds should be coming up soon.

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A few marigold plants were placed in the raised bed. These will attract pollinators and look pretty.

It is really amazing how much can be crammed into a small but carefully maintained space. In a month, this Florida raised bed will be full of young plants. Little fertilizer will be needed because of the great compost. What a great use of space!

If you want to learn more about making your own compost, you should read my post about how to make compost.

Hopefully soon I will posting about little sproutlings in this garden!

How is your garden doing? Have you planted yet or are you expecting snow in your area?

Florida Raised Bed Gardening (Part 1)

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Thinking about starting a garden this year? Gardening in Florida is such a worthwhile endeavor. You can get fresh air, gentle exercise, and fresh vegetables!

I have been helping a retired couple set up a raised bed in their backyard. A raised bed is a great way to start gardening.

Many like the raised bed system of gardening because they have more control over the soil. In Florida, that is important because our natural ground is so sandy.

Also, many who have raised beds use the square foot method of gardening, as developed by Mel Bartholomew (see his blog here).

The first step is to select a site. You need between 4-6 hours of sun, really 6 hours or more is best. If some afternoon shade is available, your plants will appreciate the break from our blistering Florida sun.

They selected a site in their backyard that seemed to get the most sun.

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The next step is to assemble the raised bed. Be sure to use quality wood, but be careful of using wood that has been treated with chemicals-remember, your food will be growing in this box!

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This one was made by cutting a 4×4 into 4 equal lengths for the corners, then screwing 4x1x6 boards to the corner posts.

This  raised bed framework was built years ago and was used as a compost bin until they decided to use it for a garden.

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Next, lay a layer of  cardboard or thick newspaper to smother the grass. Poke a few holes for drainage, then add a thick layer of leaves. The leaves will also help to smother weeds and will provide more organic material as they decompose.

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Finally, add a thick layer of compost, at least 6 inches. This couple had been making compost using kitchen and yard scraps and had plenty of this rich material to use. For my tutorial on how to make compost, read this post.

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Water the garden thoroughly to settle the soil and to be sure that it is level. Water will settle in any low spots.

The next post about raised bed gardening will cover how to plan and plant your Florida raised bed garden. This couple really wants tomatoes and herbs; see what they plant in Florida Raised Bed Gardening Part 2.

 

Who Wants Zucchini Bread?

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It’s time to put on the trusty garden shoes and plant some squash in Florida! I am really trying to get many of my seeds in before Friday, as it is supposed to rain then. Plants always seem to grow better when God waters them.

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These are my favorite gardening shoes-an old pair of sneakers with the backs smashed in.

Planting squash in Florida is a bit different than other places. Typically, you are instructed to build little hills and to plant 3 seeds per hole.

Florida is so hot and often dry that I plant my zucchini, yellow squash, and patty pan squash at ground level or in a slight depression. If you plant them below ground level, it will allow the precious water to seep down to the roots rather than away from the plants.

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I amended my sandy Florida soil with some of my partially finished compost (see my post on how to make your own here) and a few tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer. The worms are very active now in the compost; I am so happy to see the little workers in my garden.

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After mixing it together and incorporating some of the surrounding soil, I made sure that the seeds were placed far enough from each other that I wouldn’t be forced to thin them.

I hate pulling up potentially productive plants, so I try to space the seeds at recommended mature spacing when I am sowing. I typically just plant 2 seeds per hole. If both germinate, fine. If only one germinates, it will be left alone and will actually be happier than plants that are crowded 3 at a time.

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Pulled up the last of the rutabagas today. I have plans for the roots AND the leaves. I love crops like this- the whole plant is edible. They definitely justified their place in the fall Florida garden, but it was time for them to come up so I could plant some squash.

Planting squash in Florida is a great way to spend a spring morning!

Zucchini bread here I come!

Why Another Garden Blog?

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My Florida backyard garden is a source of so much happiness and so many wonderful vegetables. Here in the Florida panhandle (zone 8b), we can grow something fresh and healthy all year long. Vegetable gardening in northwest Florida is sometimes challenging, but it is very rewarding to grow plants that are both beautiful and productive. In this blog, you are invited to peek over my fence and watch my garden grow.

There are already many sites and blogs dedicated to the outdoors; why did I decide to add yet another gardening blog?

It started when I began vegetable gardening in the Florida panhandle. I found myself (as many of you are) searching for resources that would first tell me what should be planted and then show me what they were growing. Growing vegetables here is completely different than what is portrayed in many gardening books.

Usually my dear research assistant, Mr. Google, provided me with zillions of sites and I found what I needed on the first page. However, I found it hard to find many people sharing their gardens in my area. What I did find I read voraciously and studied intently. I love gardening and have learned so much; both by research, and by hard-won experience.

Some tell me that I have the coveted green thumb, but I say with H. Fred Ale, “My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” I hope that I can create a resource to make gardening a bit easier for you. I also plan to share resources that I found helpful.

I am so grateful that I have my little garden journal to refer to as I start seeds(see my seed-starting tutorial here, plant my okra, and harvest tomatoes; but now I plan to have an illustrated journal here, on coffeetocompost.com. I find that few things are more cheerful in the damp cold days of February than looking back to pictures of the enthusiastic garden in June.

I love to have my hands in the soil, feed the compost, watch little sproutlings grow, and feel the hope that a packet of seeds brings.  If you eagerly await the seed catalogs each year, obsessively monitor your seedlings’ progress, frantically try new ways to outwit frost,or just want to figure out how to have fresh basil this year; let’s garden together.