I’ve surprised myself this summer because once the temperature hits the triple digits I typically prefer to remain indoors. But lately I’ve found great comfort in being outside, albeit in the shade.
Unfortunately, veggies don’t grow in the shade. So I have to get up early and do my work before it gets hot and then recline in the shade in my hammock. Which, in my mind, counts as gardening (my wife would disagree).
Gardening relaxes me. There is something peaceful and Zen-like in watching and nourishing my plants. Granted, it’s frustrating when the bugs invade, or the plants mysteriously wilt. So my first bit of advice is the same advice I was given by a friend when we got a goldfish: “Don’t get too attached to him.”
Same with plants. So I remain cautiously optimistic and find great joy in watching them grow from tiny seeds into lush healthy plants. Turns out, there’s a good reason for this feeling. According to Psychology Today, research reveals that gardening has a positive effect on our mental health. Furthermore, according to the to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, moderate activity for 2.5 hours each week – as in gardening – can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death.
Bring on the plants!
I’ve pretty much been gardening by the seat of my pants and although I get a lot of satisfaction, and sometimes more vegetables than I can eat, some seasons are a bust. As it turns out, there is some good advice for successful gardening we all should heed. Here are some basics, many of which I’ve neglected at one time or another, often resulting in lousy gardens – yet it was still worth it.
Simply put, compost is decomposed leaves and vegetable matter known by gardeners as black gold. Spreading compost around plants will ward off disease. Popular Mechanics suggests putting some in your potting mix. Compost will also help restore life to chemically abused soil.
According to arborday.org, mulch insulates the soil and retains water which helps to keep the roots moist. Mulch also keeps weeds out to help prevent root competition.
“Plant health depends on healthy roots; healthy roots depend on healthy soil for air, water and nutrients delivered in forms plants can use,” according to a Popular Mechanics article.
Also be sure to keep mulch at least an inch away from plant stems to avoid rot and fungus problems.
Location Location Location
Check if your plants prefer sun or shade. Most warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash, need at least six hours of sun. But leaf and root vegetables, such as lettuce, peas, carrots, kale and Swiss chard, can tolerate some shade.
There is a Season, Turn Turn Turn
Before planting, be sure to do your homework, which includes checking your planting zone. These are typically listed on the back of seed packets but you can always visit the IFAS website for more information: sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/florida-gardening-calendar/. The site also includes which vegetables to plant and when to plant them. If you plant your spinach in June and your tomatoes in October, they’re sure to fail.
And keep in mind, some vegetables actually taste better after a first frost, such as kale, radishes, cabbage, parsnips, carrots and Brussels sprouts.
Some plants are thirstier than others. I’m still learning this lesson. Yes, I’ve killed with kindness. Ever seen all the leaves drop off a succulent? Well, it’s not a pretty sight. Too much water will kill ‘em. Are your tomato leaves turning yellow? Could be too much water.
To conserve water and avoid mildew and fungal disease, you should water your garden early in the morning. Also, water the plants and not the leaves.
I’ve had success using soaker hoses on a timer for my small garden beds. Florida summers are brutal and if it’s not the rainy season, gardens will need watering. I grew some tasty onions in whiskey barrels, which I watered regularly. And using containers like the EarthBox take the guesswork out of watering – there’s a tube that you simply fill until you see the water come out of an overflow. My cucumbers and watermelon have grown like gangbusters in those containers.
Clearly there’s a lot more to gardening than can fit in this space, but if you’re interested, just start small and have fun with it. And keep in mind, it’s good for your mind, spirit and body.