HOW TO GROW VEGETABLES IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA

Soil testing in the fall for better spring vegetables

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When October arrives I find myself thinking about local fall festivals, pumpkin patches, and the glorious change in weather. I may even find myself looking ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas. But despite all of the local color this time of the year, and the holidays that lay on the horizon, my thoughts also leap ahead to my spring vegetable garden and what I might do now to make my garden perform better in the coming season.

As strange as that may seem to some, I know I’m not alone. Home veggie growers are forever looking ahead to next year. No matter how well or how poorly our gardens performed during the past season, we expect next year to be better.

Making certain this is the case leaves many of us ceaselessly searching for an edge, or actions we can take today that will pay off six months or more down the road.

In my mind, ensuring our garden soil is up to the task is perhaps the most important thing we can do now to prepare for springtime. Fall is the perfect time of year to have our soil tested, and if necessary, to amend it for better performance.

Your local county Cooperative Extension office can have tests performed to determine the pH of your soil and to identify which nutrients are present. Included with the test findings are instructions of what to apply, and in what amounts, to give you peak performance from your soil.

While the cost is nominal, an annual soil test is perhaps the best investment one can make for their garden.

Maintaining the proper soil pH in our vegetable gardens is crucial for optimum success. The term pH refers to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. When the pH level is too high or too low, plants are impeded from absorbing nutrients even when the nutrients are present in the soil.

An application of lime is often needed to modify soil pH in Florida because our soil is commonly a bit more acidic than many veggies prefer. An application of sulfur may be required when the soil is too alkaline.

Fall is a wonderful time to test your soil because most home vegetable growers test in early spring. The lack of demand now means your test results are returned in a short period of time.  More importantly, it takes about six months for the amendments you make to the soil to take effect. Amendments made now will have your soil ready for spring planting.

Collecting soil samples for a soil test is a relatively simple task. The University of Florida IFAS Extension recommends the following method:

  • Using a shovel (or soil probe), remove soil from 10 to 15 locations within the sampling area. Soil should be removed from the top six inches. Walk in a zigzag pattern, stopping occasionally to remove soil for the sample.
  • After taking each sub-sample, remove any plant material or mulch and deposit the soil into the plastic bucket. Mix the soil in the bucket to ensure it is well blended.
  • Spread the soil out on a newspaper or paper grocery bag and allow it to dry thoroughly.
  • Once dry, pack approximately one pint of soil into a soil sample bag (available free from your county Extension office). Alternatively, you may pack soil into a zip-top plastic bag.

After the testing is complete a soil test report will be returned to you by post or email. Your local county Extension agent is available to help interrupt the results, or otherwise help if you need assistance or have questions. Check with your county Extension office for prices and additional information.

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