Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January in the North Florida Food Garden from Gardener Ed

Seed catalogs have arrived; it’s time to inventory the seeds that you have saved and order seeds you want for the coming garden seasons; spring, summer, and fall.

One way to organize your seeds is to file them by the month that they will be planted. This helps with your motivation to get plants growing in the garden and at the appropriate times (seeds don’t grow in seed envelopes…)

Prepare your planting area now so it has a chance to ruminate and settle for spring planting. Add compost and other amendments as needed. If you had difficulty with a crop last year, consider doing a soil test. Call the extension office (850.606.5200) for details on the three types of soil tests available and how to collect and prepare soil samples for mailing to the soil test laboratory at the University of Florida. It’s well worth the investment in time and money and may well pay you back in dividends in your food garden this year.

While many vegetables may, one way or another, be started in January, the following are some of the “best bets” and methods for success:

·         Arugula: direct seed outdoors; needs frost protection
·         Lettuce: direct seed, transplant, or start seeds indoors for transplanting outside in six to eight weeks.
·         Basil, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant: start seed indoors this month and next.
·         Broccoli: direct seeding outdoors is risky but now is the time to start broccoli seed in cold frame, green house, or indoors under lights.
·         Peas: This month is a good time to direct sow English peas and snow peas outdoors
·         Strawberries: transplant, frost protection is not necessary.

  • It’s not too late for onion plants if you can find them. I will be planting “butts” from scallions (green onions) bought the supermarket this month. Cut ¾ inch off the bottoms and plant with tops just at or below the soil surface.
Some definitions:
  • Direct seeding under protected conditions (i.e., indoors, etc.)
    • Indoors: this can actually be indoors under fluorescent lights that are keep 2 inches above the top of the seedlings as they grow.
    • Outdoors in a cold frame: Monitor the cold frame closely. Be careful the plants do not overheat in the bright sun of are killed by a hard freeze. Open the cold frame an inch or or more when the sun is hot. Close and cover it with a blanket or tarp when the temperature will get below freezing.
    • In a greenhouse under controlled greenhouse conditions: Temperature and humidity can be controlled manually or automatically depending on the time your have available and the cost of automated equipment.
  • Direct Seed Outdoors: Putting seeds directly into the soil where they will be grown to maturity.
  • Transplant: Putting established plants, which were started from seed in flats or pots, into the ground where they will be grown to maturity.
  • Frost Cloth: A thin cloth used to cover plants during a freeze. (sold locally at Native Nurseries and Just Fruits and Exotics, etc.)
Risky Planting Times: There are many different factors that determine whether or not a crop succeeds, and it is more difficult to succeed at certain times of year than others. Whether your land is on a hilltop or in a lowland effects temperature. Planting in a pine grove can provide season extensions protecting from both frost and excessive heat. An example of this can be found by comparing Full Earth Farm, located on a hill top with full sun, to Turkey Hill Farm, located in a low land with planted pines and other trees. Full Earth Farm cannot grow spring brassicas (kale, cabbage, broccoli etc.) because their location in full sun on a hilltop leads to hot soil early in the spring. Turkey Hill, however, has more protection from the elements due to their garden beds in the pines. This keeps the soil cooler and they can often grow brassicas for longer than Full Earth. On the other hand, it often gets colder in the winter at Turkey Hill than it does at Full Earth because Turkey Hill is in a low area. Both situations have their pros and cons, but this example shows some crops can succeed in areas where others cannot. The planting times labeled "risky" represent times when your crop may succeed, or it may not. It all depends on your garden location and, of course, the weather and the grower's diligence in watering, feeding and pest management.

Modified from “Growing Here: A workshop series brought to you by the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance,” January 8, 2011

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