Organic Gardening in SWFL, 2015

Seems strange to be writing this but I’m in the thick of planning my fall organic garden.  Here in southwest Florida our climate is brutal in the summer months so we grow most of our veggies in the cooler winter months.  Rarely do we see a winter freeze warning here so most of the time conditions are great to make our gardens grow.  My focus for organic gardening this year is to design and maintain a new garden for personal consumption with a goal of increasing self-sufficiency.

This year I’m planning a 6′ x 12′ raised bed garden in a cleared area of my back yard which gets tons of full sun.  I’ve been composting now for a while and I have quite a bit ready for the garden even though it’s not nearly enough.  We eat tons of eggs in our house and we save the eggshells which have been dried and pulverized to add to the garden when it’s time.  Our pine trees have started to shed their needles which is a great (free) mulch and we’re stockpiling some for when the garden goes in.  We’ve even made a “chicken tractor” out of reclaimed pallets and unused chicken wire so the chickens can work their little butts off by clearing and prepping the area for the garden.  Chicken poop is great fertilizer in case you didn’t know!

After a bit of research (and I’m a research junky) I’ve plotted and planned what will work next to what and what won’t work.  By planning out my garden out on grid paper, I sectioned it off in square foot increments and jotted down the plants and their quantities that will become residents of those small plots.  I knew I wanted to put in three groups of three sisters (corn, beans or peas, and squash).  Take a look at the pictogram from gmofreeusa.org that quickly explains it:    3 sistersOnce I planned where these three groups would be I worked my way down my list and here is what I came up with:

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This chart will be entered into an Excel spreadsheet so I can keep track of the yield of each plant as well as planning a rotation for next year’s garden.  For now I’ve started half of my seeds to give them a week head start and the garden should be fully in place by September 15, 2015.  Here are my seeds:

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This might all seem like overkill but I’m trying to stay with my “Grand Master Plan” for my backyard re-design and if my efforts work or not, I’ll want records so I can improve these conditions every year.  The goal is to do more homesteading and composting, eat all 100% fresh organic food, eat no GMO-laden food, reduce chemical intake, and reduce waste.  In the front of the house the 5′ x 7′ established garden will remain as my herb garden and new herbs will replace those that need refreshing.  The seeds for those herbs will be prepped this weekend and that garden will be plotted out similarly to the garden in the backyard.

 

Information above added on August 28, 2015

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Information below added on May 24, 2016

 

So how did my garden grow?  Pretty well, thank you!  I walked away with some valuable knowledge and an eager attitude to do it again. 

During the course of the gardening season I learned the following:
    –  Old seeds do not sprout.  Period.  Get new and fresh seeds – packages should typically be less than 2 years old.
    –  Overplanting does not increase production.  Period.  Just because you have three packages of carrots containing hundreds of seeds doesn’t mean that you should plant them all in the small plot you’ve set aside for them.  If you follow square foot gardening, only 16 seeds should be planted in the 12″ x 12″ area and no more than that.
    –  Planting flowers increases vegetable production.
    –  Southwest Florida does not have soil – we have sand.  Do not waste time to “amend” the soil but turning and mixing new good soil in to the existing sand –  all that’s accomplished is decreasing the benefits of the good soil.
    –  Mulch!  Mulching truly helps to hold moisture in the soil.  When planting with seeds or plants, simply cover the entire area with mulch first and pull back a small area of mulch where you want to plant and leave the area uncovered until the plant is strong and healthy.
    –  Fog kills cucumber, zucchini, and squash plants.  Yep, here in southwest Florida fog kills.  Two different master gardeners here have confirmed this fact.  Go figure!
    –  Most cold weather loving plants (broccoli or cabbage, for example) do not like growing here because it simply doesn’t get cool enough for long enough for these plants to be happy.  Hmmm.
    –  Wasps kill corn.  Dead.  (Bastards!)

All in all my first attempt at organic gardening in a full vegetable garden was a big success.  I’ve had plenty of carrots, beans, sweet peas, onions, celery, tomatoes, poblano peppers, turnips, parsnips, lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes, and so on to eat all season long plus tons of egg from “the girls”.  Certain things like corn, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon, squash, and cabbage never produced anything substantial enough to eat.  Pots of sweet potatoes and Malabar spinach have been very fruitful and the herb garden (under a few trees in dappled sunshine) still is going strong.  The rest of the garden has been pulled up and composted or fed to the chickens except the sunflowers and marigolds.  Now I’m working on plans for a garden renovation.  Stay tuned!

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