Prior to sowing seeds, it is a good idea to add organics to the soil in the form of compost. Generally it is recommended to add compost at least a month prior to planting. If you till your garden then adding compost should take place before this. By waiting a month to plant the organics that have been tilled under can finish decomposing, and the soil will have settled. Another good organic to add to a garden is certain animal manures preferably from herbivores such as horses, cows, goats and rabbits. However, there are commercially available composts made from bat and chicken guano. In the community garden the use of manures are forbidden unless it is commercially sold and packaged as being completely composted. Composting breaks down any parasites, pathogens, larvae and weed seeds that may be in raw manure, assuring its safety to be used with food crops for human consumption. As the community garden is organic, the use of inorganic fertilizers in also forbidden, in which case composts and composted manures may be the best method to fertilize crops. Several types of composts and composted manures are available at local garden and hardware stores.
Probably the biggest problem that gardeners will face in the community garden setting is insect pests. Again we must reiterate that the garden is organic, therefore no pesticides may be used unless they are rated for organic food use. In the setting of a community garden where everyone’s plots are in close proximity, we ask that plot holders be considerate to their neighbors and control any outbreaks of insect infestation quickly so as to prevent the spread throughout the garden. Most of the time infestations can be prevented by simply walking through the plot regularly and manually removing any pests.
Organic Garden Pest Control
For those pests that cannot be controlled manually, there are some great organic pesticides available. The best tip I recently recieved was the application of used coffee grounds to eliminate fire ants. Starbucks coffee shops gives away their used coffee grounds to the public for free to use in their gardens. I grab the coffee grounds by the handful and sprinkle them all over the garden, they do not harm the crops or any of the beneficial insects. A great organic pesticide I have had recent success with is Spinosad. Spinosad is derived from a naturally occuring soil bacterium and works on a wide range of pests from caterpillers to mites. Pests must feed from the treated plant for spinosad to be effective which means it is safe for most beneficials except bees. The easiest way to prevent any accidental exposure for bees is to apply later in the day when most pollinators are no longer active. Also for pest issues there is Neem Oil, which is an oil extracted from the fruit of the Neem Tree. This oil is excellent for controlling scale, mites and leafminers and it is also a fungicide. Neem oil is totally non-toxic to all other animals that may inhabit your yard, and even to beneficial insects. Neem oil can also be used prophylactically to protect crops from developing any insect issues. The third product that is in my pest control arsenal is DiPel. DiPel is a biological pesticide made from a naturally occurring component called Bacillus thuringiensis which it also referred to as Bt. And as with the Neem Oil it is non-toxic to humans, pets and beneficial insects.
Winter Garden Tips
So many people only do summer gardens but there are so many wonderful vegetables that you can grow in Florida during the colder seasons. Onion sets can be planted, as well as Broccoli, Cauliflour, Brussel Sprouts, Carrots, Radishes, Cabbage, and Lettuce. Don't forget the wide variety the Winter Squashes either, Hubbard, Acorn, Butternut, Buttercup, and so many more. One thing to keep in mind, Cucurbits (the family of vegetables that include squash, cucumbers, watermelons, etc.) are prone to powdery mildew in Florida because of our humidity. However there are some great varieties of vegetables of all types that have resistance to certain diseases. So if you are interested in growing squashes check online to find powdery mildew resistant varieties and save yourself the hassle of spraying fungicides.
Beneficial Insect Pest Control
The concept is ironic, using bugs to control bugs, but many people have success with it. There are two approaches to using beneficials: attraction and introduction. Attraction is simply convincing native populations of beneficial insects to come hang out in your garden. This is accomplished by planting species of flowering plants which attract beneficials. Beneficials often vary their eating habits as they transition from juveniles to adults. Meaning they may be predatory as a juvenile but require nectar as an adult. Also, those beneficial species that are predatory throughout their lifespan often utilze nectar for energy and pollen for protein. Therefore by introducing flowering perennials into your garden you will attract beneficial predatory insects to take up residence in your garden.
The second method,introduction, is where the gardner physically brings the beneficial insects to the garden for release. Most of the time these insects are purchased through companies that rear them and sell either the eggs or juveniles to gardeners. For the best success gardeners are advised to incorporate both methods.
For any specific advice, or helpful tips that you want to share please email them to Jennifer Magavero