Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April in the North Florida Food Garden from Gardener Ed

Soil preparation began 6 to 8 weeks ago.  As your April plantings grow, so will garden weeds.

Scrape off tiny weeds with a scuffle hoe, cobra weeder, or tuna can, when they first appear and while they are still young, tender, and easily removed.  If you’re tired of battling the summer weeds, then getting an early start is a no brainer.  Once weeds are up and reseeding it's often tough to get them under control. Scuffle hoe and hand weed all plantings weekly.  Later, when the soil has warmed, begin applying compost and mulch to control weeds and conserve soil moisture.  In the past, April has been one of our driest months; that may change with global warming.

Please note that if you are using hay or manure, be sure your source has not applied persistent herbicides like aminopyralid, clopyralid, fluroxypyr, picloram, and triclopyr. These herbicides may still be present even in the manure of livestock that have eaten the hay. If in doubt leave it out. Alternatively, after composting this material, make a few test pots with seeds to see how they grow before you use the compost in your food garden. For more on the persistence of pesticides see a post on chemicals in your mulch and compost in the Tallahassee Permaculture blog.  


Check for pests early on. Hand pick stink bugs, potato beetles, asparagus beetles, etc.  Use diatomaceous earth or Bacillus thuringiensis (BT, Thuricide, Dipel) for caterpillar or worm problems.  Use insecticidal soap to control soft bodied insects like aphids.

Siberian Kale
If all your fall and winter planning and planting went well, then you could be enjoying the these “fruits” of your labors: asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, herbs, elephant garlic green leeks, scallions, garlic and onion scapes, kohlrabi, lettuce, parsley, radishes, rutabaga, English peas, snap peas, strawberries, and turmeric. And of course greens like; arugula, Asian greens, beet greens, chard , cabbage, collard greens, kale , mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens, turnips and turnip greens.  It’s quite a bounty.

Phenology (the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, esp. in relation to climate and plant and animal life) as a tool for knowing when to plant.  It's safe to plant tender crops when grape vines begin to leaf out, oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear, and dogwoods bloom.  Lilac blossoms are also a reliable traditional indicator; but they don’t grow this far south…  When pecan, walnut, and hickory trees leaf out it’s time to plant sweet potato slips, okra, and southern peas (when the soil has warmed to 70°F).  Peppers and eggplants like warmer weather also if you have not planted them sooner.

Direct seed:  Arugula, beans, butter beans, cucumbers (picklers and slicers), melons, summer squash, lettuce and corn.  Warmer season crops like edamame soy, okra, southern peas, basil, do better seeded toward the end of April.  Water new seeding regularly so they will germinate.

Transplant: Eggplant, peppers, lettuce, basil, cucumbers, melons, and summer squash. It’s late but not too late to transplant tomatoes. The earlier tomatoes are planted, the better your chances of getting a crop before the ravages of summer insects and diseases. Unlike most heat loving crops, tomatoes will stand a bit of cool weather but not frost.  If you haven’t started your transplants six to eight weeks ago, you can still buy your vegetable plant starts from our local nurseries and market farmers:  Just Fruits and Exotics, Native Nurseries, Turkey Hill Farm, Ten Speed Greens, Orchard Pond Organics, and Tallahassee Nurseries among others. These transplants are locally grown and usually locally adapted.

You can still start more lettuce seeds in flats or by direct seeding in the garden.

Later in April start cutting sweet potato slips until you have enough for direct planting in the space you have selected. They will need a lot of room.  Sweet potatoes can be grown from cuttings just like white potatoes, or from slips or shoots removed from sprouting potatoes or forced by suspending potatoes in water.  When forced in water, the slips begin developing their own roots while still on the host potato, giving them a head start.  More information about growing sweet potatoes.  

Put supports in place for beans, peas, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers before they become too large.


Sow sorghum, Sudan grass, sudan, soy, cowpeas including iron clay peas, buckwheat or millet as summer cover crops.

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