Garden Success Comes in Stages
Time to address those delightfully colored seed packets clenched tightly in your hand. I know you’re excited, as well you should be. It’s fall planting time! And in Florida, it’s one of the all-around best times in the garden. With temperatures cooling, it’s a wonderful time to be outside among the fruits and vegetables. Once hurricane season ends, that is.
And seed sowing is a wonderful step in the process, because it’s filled with the thrill of anticipation, a dash into un-chartered territory, the belief that all things are possible. It’s this enthusiasm that will ensure your seeds get a good start on life. Forget they do this kind of thing on their own, all day long, in nature everyday…
YOU are the master of your garden. You control what grows where and when. You are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the plants in your garden. Sure, Mother Nature does this all the time, but now it’s your turn. Are you ready?
Amend the soil
The first thing you must do before planting those seeds is to make sure your soil is ready and willing to provide a comfortable soft bed for your baby sprouts. I love to use mushroom compost to amend the soil, because my plants LOVE it. However, for fall planting, I also want to use my compost.
With a little help, moving the entire compost pile was no big deal. And guess what? We were rewarded with a pile of sweet potatoes! I don’t even bother growing potatoes in the garden anymore. Why should I? My compost pile does the work for me!
Depth, distance, and time are the three main ingredients to sowing seeds. First, you must know how deep to plant them. A good rule of green thumbs is to consider the size of your seed. Tiny seeds like carrots, lettuce and broccoli are planted very shallow, say about 1/4″ deep. Makes sense, right? If you plant them too deep, how will they ever break through all that dirt to reach the surface?
A step up from these are eggplant, squash, pepper and beets. These require a bit more coverage at about 1/2″ deep. Moving up the size scale, you have other seeds like beans and corn which prefer to be buried in about an inch of soil.
What about potatoes? Those big old things? They love to be underground and prefer a depth of about two inches, as do garlic and sweet onions. Helps them burrow in for the long cold winter.
Once you know how deep, you must know how far apart to space them. Many plants like to snuggle and be close while others don’t. Gives them “the fungus.” They need space—to breathe, to move, to be happy. And speaking of happy, plants have their friends and their foes and it would behoove you to know who’s who, else there be trouble.
Plants have feelings?
Sort of. Plants do respond to music, but we’re talking “companion planting” here and that means strategically planting certain fruits and vegetables close to one another (or far) in order to optimize natural growing conditions. For example, if you know the dill plant attracts the hornworm and you know hornworms can devour a tomato plant down to bare stem, are you going to place these two next to one another?
How about rosemary and cabbage? Rosemary acts as a natural repellent for the cabbage moth who just so happens to love to eat cabbage plants. You see what I mean? Corn and beans are great friends, as corn provides the trellis for beans to climb. Garlic repels aphids while tarragon seems to disgust most insects. Take a look at your selection of seeds and do the research. It will save you a basket full of heartache later on.
Another key concept is time; time of year, time per section. While some climates allow for an extended growing season (Florida: think twice a year!), most plants still prefer certain growing conditions to thrive. While Floridians may love their beaches and coleslaw during the summer months, cabbage prefer it cool, even a tad nippy.
Time also applies to “time spent within each section or row,” otherwise known as “stagger planting.” Imagine you’ve had great success with your first crop. The next question becomes, “How am I going to eat all this bounty?”
A wagon full of tomatoes is great fun to harvest, until you have to eat them all and quick—before they rot. You can always can or freeze them, but who wants to waste bounty of gorgeous red tomatoes? No one. Better idea is to plant a few seeds today, a few 10 days later, repeating the process through your planting season. This ensures a continuous supply of tomatoes—no saving needed.
Example: Many tomatoes mature between 55-80 days. Say your first planting date is May 1st and your growing season effectively ends in October (frost is back). You might consider planting the first week of May, third week of May, early to mid-June, end of June/1st of July. You have a lot of seeds, don’t you? Wonderful! By “staggering” your planting dates this way, you’ll stagger your harvest too, giving you and endless stream of tomatoes, fresh from the vine while ensuring your last batch is mature prior to fall’s frosty nip.
Because I’m in Florida, I’ll do this twice a year, beginning sprouts on the patio in August and then transplanting to the garden through early October. My last harvest will fall sometime in December (when the first freeze hits).
Amend your soil, practice companion planting, and stagger your process for a successful, continuous harvest!