Prepping for Spring Planting - a few questions

Koalatlady(9/10 Coastal)February 2, 2014

I'm a relatively new gardener (2nd year) and I have a few questions for anyone experienced with mid-Florida gardening - especially close to the Gulf Coast.

I have 6 raised bed gardens, plus a bench of about 30 container plants, and a 4x16' onion patch. Up until this weekend, they were all full of some living, some dying plants. The cold spell hit us a little harder than we thought, followed by rain, humidity and altering hot and cold days. My poor plants, which are normally pretty healthy, took a beating. Plus I've been traveling for my job more than usual, so I couldn't keep an eye on all the conditions they were developing. However, I do have a pretty sophisticated drip irrigation system to each bed that I'm able to regulate by zone on an automated system so irregular watering is usually not one of my problems. It's also linked to a rain shut-off sensor.

So.... this weekend, I ripped most everything out to prepare for the spring garden. I have lots of seedlings started and I want to prep the ground as much as possible before I transplant. I'm a little worried though because several of the plants succumbed to large amounts of mildew. Especially the tomatoes that had reached the top of their 6 foot cages.

So, here's my questions:
1) After (or before) I add compost, is there a good way to "sterilize" the soil? Obviously, I don't have the time or heat for any type of soil solarization, so would it make sense to spray the soil with any type of fungicide?
2) How meticulous do I need to be with the sterilizing the tomato cages since I had such a heavy dose of mildew? Any trick to getting them ready for the next planting?
3) I rotate my crops through the beds each season, is there anything else I should be doing to minimize the damage we get here in Florida from humidity and the resulting fungal damage? I do try to space my plants out so they don't get crowded and air can circulate.

Any advice is greatly appreciated!!


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I'm in Lakeland. Many people don't like using harsh chemicals where food is being produced. For those people, I suggest using Zero-Tol. It sterilizes material on contact. It is a general fungicide and algacide that more or less, is just very strong hydrogen peroxide. You can spray your cages with it and drench your soil with it as well. I use it all the time for soaking seeds in and using it on plant foliage. It pretty much breaks down into water, so it doesn't treat like a harsh chemical that can stay in the ground.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 3:10PM
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Koalatlady(9/10 Coastal)

Thank you for the information! Can you tell me where I could buy Zero-tol?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 7:15PM
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I got mine from Prosource One, on rt. 39, north of Plant City. It is now called Winfield Solutions. I got a 2.5 gallon container for under $100. You mix 2.5 ounces per gallon of water, so it goes a long way and is WAY WORTH the money. You can buy an already mixed quart bottle on amazon for $25 but that is the same as just over a tablespoon of the stuff I get. I also saw a 2.5 gallon jug on a website, but that was $143 plus shipping. If you call these people, you should use a business name because it is a supply place.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 2:00PM
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Not a Floridian, so take that into account as you read, but................I don't think a "sterile" soil is either possible or desirable to any significant degree. Yes, it has long been a practice to use extremely toxic items like methyl bromide to sterilize planting beds in certain kinds of nurseries, but that is beyond going overboard for your purposes, let alone you would not be able to procure MB. What you do want is a healthy soil, and that means a soil teaming with life, not a dead one. A soil which has had many microorganisms eradicated through harsh chemicals is one just waiting to be colonized by a plant pathogen. Far better it is to employ generous amounts of well-rotted compost, which is itself a plant protectant. I don't have time to list all the attributes, but if you really do want to improve things in your food garden, I'd urge you to investigate the positive results that can be obtained through the use of well-prepared compost in planting beds. They're for real!


    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 12:24PM
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