Garden Club: Start a veggie garden … in the dead of winter!
Yes, in Cape Coral, now is a great time to start your vegetable garden! Our Florida sun is strong, even in winter, yet the temperature is mild, making ideal conditions for most familiar veggies grown “up north.” Eating food you have grown is so fresh, full of flavor and nutrition. Plus it only has the chemicals you have added to them.
The most economical way to grow veggies is to plant seeds. There are plenty of mail order seed suppliers, such as Tomato Growers Supply Co., right here in Fort Myers. Or you can get plants already started from local nurseries, to give you a head start. This year, I planted lettuce, kale, sweet peppers and tomatoes to make great salads.
What’s the easiest to grow? For me, it’s broccoli, delicious raw or cooked. For you, the easiest could be another plant that especially does well in your soil or lighting situation.
To plant, select an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun. We naturally have plenty of sand and lime in our dirt, but it could use a lot more nutrition and water-holding properties to make it real soil. Some amendments to the soil will help plants grow larger and hold the water in the soil better. I add at least 2 inches of peat moss and 2 inches of compost or manure (such as Black Kow) and mix them into the soil. You can double this for very sandy soil. After planting and watering your vegetables, add 2-3 inches of mulch, like pine needles or Florimulch from a store such as GoMulch in Cape Coral. Cypress mulch is not recommended as you do not know if it is sustainably resourced. Mulch will keep water from evaporating, discourage weed seeds and add nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.
If you have an area with less sun, there are still plants to consider. Lettuce and some herbs such as basil, parsley and mint appreciate some afternoon shade. They will not go to seed as fast, so your season with them will be longer.
I have planted more broccoli seeds because my broccoli is ready to harvest. I can get another crop in before our growing season for northern crops ends around May. This is true for many crops: cilantro, radish and lettuce types. Pick and plant again! The more heat loving vegetables may grow through the summer, such as peppers, fennel and eggplant.
Vegetables thrive better if you look at them every couple of days or so. Whether you plant them in a pot, in a raised garden or tuck them among your landscape plants, they thrive better if you fertilize them often, water twice per week and keep your eye out for pests. If using pesticides, try to use the least toxic material. You will be eating the pesticide! Pick off bugs/caterpillars and drop them in a bowl of soapy water. Spray with insecticidal soap or oil. Caterpillars often come to my tomatoes. Spray with “caterpillar killer” (Bt) for tomato pinworms. If large caterpillars appear, they can be cut in half with scissors. For fungus diseases, try to keep water from splashing onto the plant by using mulch. Water early in the day and hope it is dry by sunset. Cut off infected leaves, which are getting brown and throw in the trash to keep it from spreading. Plant them in a different place each year to avoid fungus diseases.
What are your favorite veggies? Why don’t you try growing them this winter?
Sherie Bleiler is Past President of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.