Now is the time to start fresh, full 'kitchen' gardens

By Howard NorthMy Nassau Sun Logo

There are a number of reasons for planting a "kitchen" garden. We may want the benefits of fresh air, sunshine and mental therapy. We may want vegetables that are fresh, nutritious and free of unwanted pesticides. Other benefits of "kitchen" gardens are cost savings, enjoyment and improved health.

To start a vegetable garden, choose a site where there is a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight and water is easily accessible.

The soil pH should be tested two to three months prior to planting by taking a sample to the Nassau County Extension Office. A soil pH range of 5.5 to 7.0 is fine for vegetables; otherwise, it will need to be adjusted. Do not apply lime unless a soil test indicates the need - it may cause plant nutritional problems.

Now is the time to get plants and seeds in the ground. Plant seeds such as southern peas, beans, corn, cucumbers, okra, pepper, pumpkin, squash, cantaloupe, eggplant and watermelon. If you did not plant tomato and peppers seeds in February or early March in an area protected from the cold, then purchase plants. Do not forget to plant herbs. There are many summer herbs we can plant that are easy to grow and will add flavor to homegrown vegetables. Some of my favorites are thyme, basil, rosemary, mint, parsley and chives.

Tomatoes are perhaps the most popular crop. There are many varieties with different characteristics: Better Boy and Manalucie are know as indeterminate, large-fruit types that need staking and are resistant to the dreaded wilt disease. Red Cherry and Sweet 100 are indeterminate with small fruit. Walter, Floramerica and Celebrity are determinate with large fruit and do not require staking, but make sure to keep the fruit from touching the ground.

Tomatoes are subject to attack by insects such as whitefly, hornworms, aphids, leafminers and stinkbugs, which may be controlled by using insecticidal soap of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), the safest products to use. Remember to follow the instructions on the label. Some serious diseases are blights, wilts, and viruses. The wilts and viruses are avoided by using varieties with tags marked with the letters V (Verticillium wilt), F (fusarium Wild), N (root nematodes) and T (tobacco mosaic virus), indicating their resistance to the diseases. Other problems include blossom-end rot, which results from too little calcium and/or too little or too much water. Blossom drop may result from too much nitrogen, insufficient sunlight, over-watering, or from night temperatures being too low or high. With limited space, tomato and pepper plants can grow in containers at least 10 inches deep and wide. Place containers on a patio or balcony as long as they get adequate sun.


Howard North

Howard Noth lives in Callahan and
is an active Master Gardener Volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.