As we gear up for the new growing season, here are some essential steps I’m taking in August to set our garden up for success.
In the Garden: Soil Health Takes Center Stage
Before diving into any gardening tasks, it’s crucial to get a clear picture of our garden soil’s health. I’ve had to learn the hard way how essential it is to know the pH and nutrient content of our soil. I tried correcting chlorisis on our tomatoes with fertilizer. It did corrected the problem but not for long because the problem wasnt the lack of nutrients. Our soil pH was off and the plants were not able to uptake the nutrients in the soil! Soil testing will provide you with valuable insights into what your plants need and what adjustments you might need to make.
To test your soil, reach out to your local extension office for soil sample boxes. Fill these boxes with soil from various areas of your vegetable beds and send them off for analysis. This will help you understand the specific requirements of your garden and tailor your fertilization and pH adjustment strategies accordingly. Soil in intensive vegetable gardens can change rapidly, so it’s a good idea to repeat these tests every other year or even more frequently.
Under Shelter: Planning Ahead for Cool-Weather Crops
I don’t know, you guys. The current heat feels so oppressive and relentless! We haven’t gone a single day this summer without some kind of heat advisory/warning alert going off on our phone. I’m counting… eh praying for cooler temperatures to arrive soon. I am organizing our seeds and picking out those that will thrive in cooler conditions while daydreaming about cooler days ahead.
I am also starting heat-tolerant cool-weather cole crops such as kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. These plants can withstand the summer heat, they’ll be ready to take off as soon as temperatures start to drop. I am also taking advantage of the heat by starting seeds for tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. They can take on the heat and will have ample time to establish themselves before producing a bountiful harvest in the months ahead.
Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Seeds
Starting seeds indoors is a fantastic way to get a head start on your garden and ensure strong, healthy plants for the upcoming growing season. Whether you’re growing cool-weather crops or heat-tolerant varieties in South Florida, these steps will help give your seeds the best chance of success.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Seed trays or containers with drainage holes
- Seed-starting mix or a well-draining potting mix
- Seeds of your chosen crops
- Clear plastic domes or plastic wrap
- Grow lights or a sunny windowsill
- Watering can or spray bottle
- Labels to identify your plant varieties
Step 1: Choose the Right Seeds Select seeds that are suitable for your region’s climate and growing conditions. Consider both cool-weather crops that will thrive in the coming months and heat-tolerant plants that can withstand the remaining summer heat.
Step 2: Prepare the Seed Trays Fill your seed trays or containers with a high-quality seed-starting mix. This mix provides the right texture and drainage for germinating seeds. Moisten the mix with water, but avoid making it soggy.
Step 3: Sow the Seeds Follow the seed packet’s instructions for the appropriate depth and spacing for each type of seed. Gently press the seeds into the soil using your finger or a small tool. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of seed-starting mix, and then lightly press down to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
Step 4: Provide Humidity To create a humid environment that encourages germination, cover the seed trays with clear plastic domes or plastic wrap. This helps retain moisture and warmth. Place the trays in a warm location, preferably between 70-80°F (21-27°C).
Step 5: Provide Light As soon as you see the first signs of sprouting, remove the plastic cover. Place the trays under grow lights or on a sunny windowsill. If you’re using artificial lights, keep them on for about 14-16 hours per day to mimic sunlight.
Step 6: Monitor Moisture Check the moisture level of the seed-starting mix regularly. Use a spray bottle or a gentle stream of water to water the seedlings, ensuring the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged.
Step 7: Thin Seedlings Once the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves (these leaves typically look different from the initial seed leaves), thin them out if they’re crowded. This allows the remaining seedlings more space and resources to grow.
Step 8: Harden Off Seedlings Before transplanting your seedlings outdoors, they need to be acclimated to outdoor conditions. Gradually expose them to outdoor conditions over the course of a week. Start with a few hours of sunlight and gradually increase the time each day.
Step 9: Transplanting Once your seedlings are properly hardened off and the weather is appropriate, transplant them into your garden beds or containers. Be gentle when handling the seedlings and make sure to plant them at the appropriate depth.
Step 10: Care and Maintenance Continue to care for your transplanted seedlings by providing them with adequate water, sunlight, and any necessary nutrients. Monitor for pests and diseases and take appropriate action if necessary.
Starting seeds indoors is a rewarding and cost-effective way to kickstart the garden. But each type of plant may have specific requirements, so always refer to the seed packet for any additional instructions. Happy gardening!