Our first year of gardening in Florida was very organized. I documented the number and type of each plant and seed on every row. We had 14 rows running East and West. It was a beautifully planned garden that was overtaken by weeds, nematodes, and squirrels.
Our second year of gardening was spent ridding the garden of nematodes by sterilizing the soil. We covered the garden with the prescribed white plastic. While we were waiting for the nematodes to become sterilized or die out from starvation – whatever the plastic was supposed to do – we attended some gardening classes held by the Extension Service people in surrounding counties.
We attended a two-day class in Baker County that talked about Aluminet® shade cloth that allows sunlight to reach the plants but protects them from the intense heat of the sun. We were told that gardening in Florida is not ‘normal’ gardening. The Florida growing season is essentially over in May because of the intense heat and humidity in June, July, August and even September. The Extension Service had been testing shade cloth through the summer with great success in growing bell peppers.
We attended a week long class in Marion County that discussed raised garden beds, crop rotation, and organic gardening. The different lessons were taught by Master Gardeners, and they were brilliant. We attended another class where a Master Gardener demonstrated planting potatoes in a bucket.
Meanwhile, we continued our battle with squirrels who had declared all our plants, even our flowers, as buffet-worthy. We realized we’d never be able to train all the squirrels to leave our herbs, vegetables, and flowers alone. We did need the pollinators to be able to get to our herbs and vegetables, so we decided to put our plants in cages covered with chicken wire.
Our third year of gardening is putting everything we’ve learned together. We have four rows running North and South. Each row has a type of crop – root, leafy, flowering (cucumber, tomato, pepper), and beans. Next year all the crop types will move over a row. We’ve sprayed neem oil for spider mites, but all the other pests have been removed by hand. And crushed. Organic gardeners are sometimes quite primitive in their plant protection methods. It’s not for the squeamish.
Each row is covered by a frame of PVC pipe covered with chicken wire. Access to the plants requires lifting up a panel after moving the blocks of wood that serve as locks on each end. So far, the squirrels have not managed to break in. And the shade cloth covers the four 16-foot rows.
The herbs are all in a chicken wire-covered structure that we brilliantly named Herb’s Garden. We had excess tomato plants, so we put them in Home Depot Homer’s Buckets. We planted potatoes in four 55 gallon food-grade barrels that we had somehow acquired over the years.
All the structures you see – the raised beds, the vegetable cages, Herb’s Garden, the shade cloth frame – were built by my very talented husband. Here’s to a man who asks “What’s my next project?” More romantic words could never be spoken!
Our garden results so far have far exceeded the first two years. We’ve harvested 13 pounds of cucumbers and 8 pounds of beans in the past few weeks. The tomatoes and peppers look promising. It’s a good thing I love to can!