HOW TO GROW VEGETABLES IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA

April is vegetable planting time in Northwest Fla

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Here it is the middle of April and spring weather is now just arriving in Northwest Florida. This year it seemed like winter held on tighter than Spandex. That has put many of us home farmers a bit behind in our traditional spring planting schedule.

Time to step up our game.

We only have about two weeks left to get most spring veggies in the garden. Spring weather may have been late arriving, but that does mean summer will be delayed.

Before the end of April in Northwest Florida, we should plant such crops as beans, cantaloupes, sweet corn, peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, tomatoes and watermelons. The following vegetables can be planted with success later into the summer, though earlier is usually better: lima beans, eggplant, okra, Southern Peas and sweet potatoes.

The Internet provides the best source of vegetable seeds, but your local nursery or box store is perhaps the best way to go for the vegetables that need to be put out quickly. There you will find both seeds and starter plants. At this point in time, I would opt for seeds for beans, pumpkins, sweet corn and summer squash. I would choose starter plants for melons, tomatoes and peppers (perhaps for squash, too, so I would have some early squash from starter plants and later squash from my seeded plants).

While a soil test is always recommended before planting, it is too late for that now. Don’t let anything delay you in getting your crops in the ground.

You don’t even need to amend or till the soil to have a successful vegetable garden.

I have considerable success with no-till gardening. I simply apply compost on the surface of the soil, usually mushroom compost in my case. An inch or two is plenty. Then I dig a hole slightly larger than the pot, set my starter plants in the hole and backfill. I apply fertilizer on the surface of the compost (following label directions), and then cover with a few inches of mulch (I like to use pine straw, but straw or even dried leaves will work).

Mulching helps keep weeds down, roots cool and soil evenly moist, and holds down disease by keeping water (rain or sprinkler) from bouncing up from the soil and infecting crops. I use pine straw because it can be easily raked away to apply fertilizer during the growing season, and it can be used for more than one season. It does a splendid job holding down most weeds, too.

When planting by seeds, I usually put down only about a half inch of compost, sow the seeds at the recommended depth, and then apply another half-inch of compost on the soil surface a couple of inches away from the seeds. I apply mulch over that same area. I apply some fertilizer on the soil surface, and mulch around the plants, once they grown to a few inches.

Prefer to grow your garden in containers? All of the popular veggies can be grown in containers. The bigger the better to help keep the potting mix moist and the roots cool.

It is vital to keep your seedlings and starter plants evenly moist during the early days in the garden. Also, be vigilant in keeping a lookout for pests. They can seriously set back young plants before they are established. Bayer makes effective, low toxic pesticides for home vegetable gardens, and they are readily available.

Once your veggies are established, you will need to fertilize about every three weeks, or perhaps as often as weekly if you are using a liquid or soluble fertilizer.

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