Last month the City of Marco Island Parks and Recreation Department presented a three-part gardening lecture series courtesy of the Collier County Extension Services and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). The presentations covered topics ranging from orchids, the ins and outs of gardening in Southwest Florida and growing vegetables. Coastal Breeze News sat in for the last presentation and learned all about veggies—how to plant them and when to eat them.
Growing vegetables in our Southwest Florida climate is much easier than one might think. We have no bothersome snow to worry about and our weather rarely dips below 50 degrees. It’s as if we live in a perpetual summer. Which is good for the gardening, bad for the skin. Our ability to grow almost year round, however, seems to give us a slight advantage over the average Northern American farmer. But like always, there are pros and cons.
Master Gardner Marty Koblish began her presentation with a simple question, “Why plant vegetables?” Answers rang out from the audience. Some people suggested that planting vegetables feels fresher or cleaner. Otherschimed in saying that they feel safer knowing where their food comes from. Many simply contended that there’s a certain fun to be had in growing and eating your own food.
“It can also teach your children and grandchildren where food comes from,” said Koblish, adding her own reason. “One of the exciting things happening now in Collier County is that we have more and more schools that are starting student gardens.”
We then moved on to the advantages and disadvantages of growing vegetables in containers. Almost all vegetables can be grown in a pot, so long as the pot is big enough for the root systems and there is adequate drainage. Containers allow the gardener control. For instance, if there’s a torrential downpour outside one can easily pick up the pot and move it to a drier area. Or if your vegetable plant isn’t getting enough sun you can always move it around until it’s happy. It’s also convenient for those who live in condominiums or apartments who may not have access to a yard. Due to the controlled environment that containers allow, plants will live amuch safer life. On the other hand, plants in containers do require more water as the containers dry out faster. Potting soil can also get pretty pricy. But according to Koblish there are ways to conserve.
“I use Styrofoam peanuts and some plastic containers that I don’t need anymore,” said Koblish. “Yogurt containers, things like that. I dump them all into the pot and fill it about half way then put the soil on top. Plants don’t care. They just need to get their roots in and around. It makes the container lighter, you spend less on soil and it’s easier to move around.”
Other planting options include putting plants straight in the ground or creating raised beds. Raised beds are especially convenient for those who my have issues bending over, though they tend to be more expensive to set up. If you plan on planting in the ground it’s important that you ameliorate the soil. Here on Marco most of our natural soil is made up of sand. Potting soil needs to be strong and dense enough so that it’s able support the plant as it grows.
“Youneed good air and water flow while retaining its moisture. You also want the soil you buy to be free of pathogens or weeds,” said Koblish.
Regardless of how you plant, it’s important to remember that all vegetables need at least six to eight hours of sun a day.
Finally, for the beginning gardener it can difficult to decide whether you want to start from a seed or a seedling. This is more of a matter of personal preference. Buying a seedling from the store will yield faster results. It also allows you more of a selection, while seeds take longer and may never grow. To put it simply, if you’ve got patience go for the seeds, but if you want faster results a seedling might be the better option.
“It’s impossible for all of us to know everything about everything when it comes to plants and palms and trees and vegetables in Florida,” said Koblish. So we all sort of help one another and we learn from one another.”
For more information about gardening visit: www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021, or call/visit: UF/IFAS Collier Extension Center, 14700 Immokalee Road, Naples, 239-252-4800.