Eating healthier foods, getting more exercise and saving money on groceries are on the minds of almost every Tampa Bay resident these days. One way to address all those issues is to start your own family vegetable garden. Sunshine, exercise and fresh food are just part of the potential payoff. With a little luck, your kids might be more willing to eat vegetables that they helped grow.
1. Where to start. The first thing to do is pick a good spot. What’s a good spot? Horticulturist Dr. Sydney Park Brown of the University of Florida says you need a well-drained site that’s near your water source and that gets at least six hours of sunlight per day. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says a 10×16 foot plot that’s set up right can provide a family of four with a summer’s worth of good stuff with some left over for canning or sharing with neighbors.
2. Check your soil. Before you can figure out what to grow, you should have some idea of what your soil will grow. Soil acidity, measured as pH, is the key figure. If your soil tests out at 5.5 to 7.0 you’re ready to go. If your soil measures below 5.5, applying lime will help bring it up to the target level. However, Dr. Brown says alkaline soil above 7.0 is a much more serious problem. “There is no practical way of permanently lowering soil pH. Additions of acidic organic matter will help, but only temporarily.”
3. Fertilizing. Most Florida soil needs some extra help to grow good vegetables. There are plenty of commercial chemical fertilizers available, but chemicals aren’t the only answer. Compost bins and non-synthetic fertilizers are another option.
4. What to grow. Once you’ve got your soil prepared, the hard part may be deciding what to grow. The Extension Service has a series of tables showing everything from bush beans to watermelons as good to grow. Tomatoes are pretty much a can’t miss item, along with lettuce, radishes and carrots.
5. Keeping the pests away. The best way to keep pests away will depend on your own philosophy of how best to balance your need to protect your garden with the need to protect the environment. According to the Hillsborough Extension Service, whether you use chemicals or not, keeping your garden weed free is one way to keep pests from making themselves at home in your garden. Chemical pesticides are readily available, but if you’re interested in organic methods, Tampa Organic Pest Control Services can help.
Tampa Organic Pest Control Services
P.O. Box 2618
Brandon, FL 33509
Tampa Organic Pest Control Services is a great option for gardeners who don’t want to use chemicals.
Hillsborough County Extension Office
5339 County Rd 579
Seffner, FL 33584
Hillsborough County Extension Service will analyze your soil free of charge and will usually have results back to you in one to three days.
Shell’s Feed and Garden Supply
9513 Nebraska Ave.
Tampa, FL 33612
Shell’s Feed and Garden Supply in Tampa says that chemicals aren’t the only answer. Find compost bins and gardening tools for an organic garden.
Annie’s Garden Shed
100 4th Ave. North
Lutz, FL 33549
Annie’s Garden Shed in Lutz is a great place to find seeds, seedlings and good advice. Owner Pattie Schaefer is on scene and ready to help turn your brown thumb into a green one.
For more great tricks, tips and advice about your home, visit CBSTampa/YourHome.
Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.