Pam Brown, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Agent
Have you ever tasted a tomato that actually ripened on the vine? Or eaten broccoli that was cooked as soon as it was harvested? If so, you know the joys of growing your own vegetables. With concerns about the safety of some vegetables, the distance they travel to our tables, and the pesticides used in other countries, it makes sense to try to grow at least some vegetables for ourselves. Fall through spring is the prime time for growing veggies here in this part of Florida.
Many of us do not have room for a full fledged vegetable garden. But, properly planted and tended containers can produce quite a bounty of vegetables. You must choose the site for your containers carefully since vegetables require at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun, especially those producing fruit like tomatoes and peppers. Lettuce and other greens can stand a little less full sun.
Many kinds of containers are suitable for growing vegetables. They will need to be large enough to hold the mature plant. A five gallon planter, bucket, can, or basket will be large enough for one tomato, pepper, or eggplant. Commercially available window boxes or other “grow boxes” that are specifically designed for vegetable gardening are also appropriate. Just remember, it is imperative that there be holes in the bottom for drainage in any container you choose to use.
It is best to use a commercial growing medium or potting soil to fill your containers. You should not use soil from your landscape since this can possibly add weed seeds, diseases, nematodes and harmful insects. Choose a potting soil that contains some sand and perlite for drainage. The main function of the growing medium is to provide the vegetable plants and their roots with the three necessary ingredients for growth - nutrients, water and air.
Vegetables grow fast and need a consistent source of water and fertilizer. Many containers will need to be watered every day once the plants start to mature. Allowing the plants to wilt from lack of water will reduce the yield and also affect the taste. Choose a slow release fertilizer with Magnesium and micro nutrients or one of the fertilizers labeled specifically for vegetables. Incorporate fertilizer into the growing medium at planting following directions on the label for the amount to use. Never use turf fertilizers for vegetables. The ratio of nutrients is not appropriate.
There are always pest challenges. Look at your plants often and watch for caterpillars, whiteflies, aphids, and other insects. Many times there will be beneficial insects that come along to help control the bad ones. But, if not, be sure that any pesticides that you use are labeled for vegetable gardens. Try the least toxic pesticide first.
I cannot cover all of the information that is necessary for growing veggies in this space. You can access the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” on the Internet at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021. In addition, this Vegetable Gardening Topic index http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/TOPIC_Vegetable_Gardening provides publications on all veggie gardening topics including organic gardening and pest control. Vegetable Gardening in Florida by James Stephens is the best book for gardening information. It is a great resource and contains the best pictures of insect pests and diseases of vegetables.
I wish you successful gardening and good eating.