Looking for advise for a new garden

trkpoker(10b)February 3, 2012

OK, first hello all. I have been stalking these forums for a few weeks now and just figured I would say hello. I am located in South Florida and more specifically Broward county well West of I-95. Just about zero chance of freeze and if we get one it might last 1-2 days. I haven't had any real vegetable garden of any size in about 12+years so going to be jumping in the deep water right off the bat. I have 2 kids, 8 and 4, who want to help out but really this is going to be me 99.9%.

I need some advise. Going to be making a raised garden for vegetables. Going to be growing a lot of stuff but the main ones will be tomatoes, peppers(hot and sweet), eggplant, root vegs.(carrots, radish, etc.) and herbs. This is not nearly a complete list but a start. Going to have at least 4-4'X8' raised beds. I am quite handy with tools and have been doing irrigation for well over 20 years for my family business that is 58+ yrs old.

OK thats the basics. My main question is about soil. I will be starting with 100% new soil. I have a pickup truck and can get truck loads full of soil from a bulk landscape place. What should I buy to start and what should I be adding to the soil to get a solid start.

Second starter question is starting plants from seeds. Seems a lot of people on this forum start seeds indoors. I this because of cool weather so they get a start before spring or a necessary step. I would rather start seeds in the beds and plant 4 times or more what I need and thin to what I want rather than bother with a grow light indoors.

The landscape beds will be (as of now unless someone tells me how wrong my idea is) 17 1/2" deep with 15+" of soil. Plan is to run micro irrigation with valves for each bed so I can micro manage the watering. These beds will also have full sunlight from about AM to PM (or more) and I am planing to build a removable shade screen for when the heat sets in.

Any ideas and/or help would be very much welcome.

Thanks in advance,


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Not sure how to edit my post, probally missed it somewhere but...

Beds will get sun from about 9 AM till about 4 PM at the least.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 5:22PM
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Your plan sounds good to me. Be aware that carrots and radishes are cool season veggies and do not do well in the heat so you'll need to start those quickly. Sometimes the reason we start seeds inside is to avoid cold and sometimes it is to avoid heat, disease, and bugs in the summer. Eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes grow so slowly from seed. Since you are in zone 10b it may be too late to start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants from seed now. When summer comes the garden mostly shuts down. Check out the Florida planting guides for more info.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 7:04PM
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How is it going? I was in Broward for 10 years and just moved North of you two years ago.

I have been doing raised beds about your same size for the last 5 years. I use a mixture of composts, peat moss and either vermiculite of perlite. Most places don't carry course vermiculite anymore. Uncle Bim's in West Palm Beach was the last place I found it. I don't see a problem with top soil other then you never know exactly what kind of weeds you may be pulling. I would make sure to mix in ample compost to ensure an even distribution of nutrients. I am not sure about others, but I take more relaxed view of gardening, and don't knock myself out trying to test soil PH. I usually mix in the recommended amount of organic fertilizer. And depending on what you are planting in each box either bone meal or blood meal.

Soil depth is dependent on what you want to plant. My first RBG was 8 inches and I raised cabbage, brussel sprouts and broccoli in it. If you plan on doing root vegetables, no less then 12 inches. I will yield to more experience in this area because I only raise miniature versions.

IMHO the worst things you will run into gardening in SF is the humidity and bugs. Tomatoes and Eggplants hate the humidity here and will stop producing in the summer. I usually plant in early winter, get my crop, and carry over the plants buy cutting them down for the winter season. I hate sowing twice. I use my tomatoes as a signal to start planting my squash. When they stop producing its time to go. Beans I do all year long. Different varieties.

As to the bugs beware of stinkbugs!! Nearly destroyed my whole cherry tomato crop this year. I went on a weeks vacation and they tore through my plants. Lucky dishsoap and water takes care of them. Another problem I have had in my raised beds is nematodes. Solarization works well but it takes your beds out for a few months. I don't do pesticides because I have time to de-bug

As to the seed question. You are just going to have to gauge the winters here as to when you can sow directly. This year has been awesome and I have sowed everything directly. My tomatoes and eggplants are kicking out like crazy and my strawberries are producing well. I have carrots, radishes and onions already going.

I am not sure how much you know so forgive me if I am stating some obvious stuff. Like I said earlier, I yield to people with more experience. These are just my simple observations.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 7:32PM
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Just reviewed my journal and remembered two other pests that were bad last year.

Myllocerus undatus Marshall Weevils and Squash Vine Borers.

The weevil pretty much attacks all fruit bearing plants minus bananas. And the Vine Borers were bad in the heat of the summer but tapered off when the weather started to change.

Old and sick plants will always get hit by aphids but I did not have any uncontrollable problems last year. Some grasshoppers but nothing to speak of.

Anyway just one last note. If you like okra it grows like a weed so you don't have to worry when you start it.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 12:34AM
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Love okra and will be planting it. Decided to do something really stupid and was trimming a black olive tree without roping down my lean to ladder. Was find when I was only 5 feet off the ground but when my feet were at the 10 foot mark the ladder decided it was on the wrong side of the tree and rolled around it.

During my fall my knee decided to say hello to a stub I had just cut off stick out from the tree. Fell on the ladder and all of the thorns from my cuttings. So wish I had a video camera going.....Youtube would have loved me.

That being said I am a bit banged up and will be starting Sunday rather than today.

Still wondering about recommended mix of my soil. Never used much in the past. Just got good landscape soil and planted stuff. Course never grew too much either so. Never used Vermiculite or Perlite. I am hoping to keep these beds going for years so would like a good base. I will also be using a worm farm to recycle cuttings and getting soil from that.

Thanks for the replies,

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 9:49AM
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OUCH! Sorry about the crash and burn. Glad you are ok! :)

Well I am no soil expert, but top soil just doesn't have the necessary nutrients to raise a good crop. Mixing with cow compost and/or worm castings work the best from my experience. Worm castings are expensive if you are buying. BlackKow works great and I found Home Depot is selling it for 5 bucks 50lb bag.

Depending on your crop you are going to have to add Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potash for proper root growth and then getting the most to your vegetables and fruit.

There are many ways to do this. I know that Broward county library has several great resources for checkout, which outline the requirements for each plant type.

I highly recommend, Month-By-Month Gardening in Florida - 1999 - Tom MacCubbin. Why? Because it has a great month to month outline for fertilizing. There is a 2006 reversion for this book but I am not sure if it is available?

IMHO there is no cut and dry formula. You are going to have to start the beds and watch the growth of your plants and make adjustments over the course of a growing season. Don't expect much the first year, but learn as you go! When it produces beyond your expectations use this excitement to keep going!

I use peat moss for water retention, and perlite for aeration. A suggested mixture is 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 perlite. I have found with perlite you do not need to mix this much. However, with perlite you need to remix the soil. It tends to come to the top of a plot during waterings and rainstorms. Vermiculite does not come to the surface. When I harvest I really don't need to add anything more than compost to replace what is attached to roots.

I use a layer of newspaper to slow evaporation from my beds and I would recommend this during the Winter months. You could use this in lieu of the peat moss, but 4 cubic feet costs 11 dollars.

Some may say this is excessive but I am happy with my crops.

I have a compost pile, but it is not very big due to yard constraints. I recycle all vegetable matter and yard clippings but your idea of a worm farm is much better.

I plan to add a rabbit hatch with an integrated compost pile this year but it will depend on funds.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 12:16PM
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If you want very fertile soil for a long time, add all natural hardwood charcoal, it holds on to a lot of nutrients smothers is not a lot of leaching, and it also retains a good bit of water. Also perlite helps a lot with aeration, I find that vermiculite breaks down too fast.
If you want organic, add greensand/azomite, bone meal, and blood meal to the soil, with some very well aged compost. If you were looking towards synths, add manure, greensand/azomite, and osmocote.
I would really suggest taking this season off to prepare your soil then start in August, but if that's too much to ask, just ammendment your soil when it lays fallow next.
Crop rotation and companion planting are a gardeners best friend, if you do it right, you can get an eternity out of your soil, now fallow periods or anything. So definitely do some research on them.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 4:03PM
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Actually I have been reading alot about companion plants but one of my questions is about plants that shouldnt go together. How far apart should these plants be from each other? Different soil (planters) completely or just a foot or 2 in the same bed?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 4:56PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I would highly recommend you get a soil sample done at the county extension office. It will tell you what your soil needs. It costs $7.00. Also you can go in and talk to the horticulturist after you get your sample results and they can explain it all to you. They are not the easiest thing to decipher.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 5:01PM
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Harris' Gardening Almanac 2011 had a great piece on companion planting. I have a photocopy and if you can't find a copy let me know.

It outlines the following in column/rows: Mutually Beneficial, Benefited By, Of Benefit to, Protected by, and Antagonized by.

I have used some suggestions, but not all. I do suggest catnip planted along side to attract the bees. Worked great for me!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 6:26PM
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It depends on why you shouldn't plant them close. Growing onions, garlic, shallots, and chives together is a bag idea because they can all get the same disease and pass it to other plants, members of the same family shoul be very limited. If you want to grow a row of tomatoes with three or four varieties that's fine, but don't put it next to a row of potatoes, eggplants, and peppers, your just asking for a disease.
Don't put plants that require a lot of the same nutrient together: tomatoes should grow with beans not greens or corn.
I wouldn't say that it is common sense, but once you learn the ins and outs it is very simple; so logical sense.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 2:05PM
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I finished building a bunch of raised beds last fall.I first double dug the beds(I'm one of the few Florida gardeners that has clay soil).I then added any compost I had over this.I then filled the beds with #1 grade topsoil,which I trucked in(in my area it is about $20 cubic yard,which will probably be close to filling a bed for You).I looked at a few grades of bulk topsoil,but some of the others had wood chips in them,which will take a long while to compost & pull nitrogen from your soil in the process.I then added about 4 bags of composted cow manure to the top of the beds & worked this in to the top few inches of soil.I feed the soil with blood,bonemeal & compost.I now run the remnants of whatever veggie was growing in the bed,through a shredder & use this as a mulch on top of the bed for the next crop.It breaks down quickly & helps build the soil.Hope this helps

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 2:51PM
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Oh dear, reading this stuff about companion planting is making me have to rework my entire garden plan for the preschool. Thanks a lot guys. ;)

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 5:34PM
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Can you tell us what your growing? Between all of us we maybe able to draw up a plan for you.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 6:37PM
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Snapdragons, sunflowers, zinnas, pole beans, sugar snap peas, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, cilantro, thyme. I think that's it. :)

I have four planters. Two big long ones and two smaller ones.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 7:51PM
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Here is my opinion without really knowing the size and depth of your boxes:

Do not plant tomatoes, carrots with dill. Do not plant the tomatoes and bell peppers together. Do not plant onions(all varieties) with the beans and peas. I know you didn't mention onions but it is always easy to try and throw in some chives.

Parsley works well with tomatoes. Depending on the tomato variety you are planting allow for room and support. Keep pruned and pinch suckers. Tomato roots will spread out wide, fast and starve other deep rooting plants of water. Don't water in the evening unless it is well before sun down.

Carrots can be planted in the same box as radishes, peppers and sugar snap peas. Watch for aphids on carrots and radishes.

I would be careful with mint. It grows like crazy and needs constant pruning. In the heat it will slow down. If I may make a suggestion plant in a separate container. If possible?

Parsley, oregano, cilantro and thyme can be planted together. Keep cilantro pruned or it will try and flower quick and the taste of the leaves will get bitter. Watch your cilantro! Aphids love it, and are hard to see because when they suck the juice they turn exactly the same color. Thyme does not like summer heat and may die off.

If I may make a suggestion. Plant some catnip as it is a great bee lurer and it protects tomatoes, peppers.

Depending on the variety of eggplant (figure it is black beauty?) you will need lots of space and needs good pruning for air circulation. It is self pollinating so air circulation is a must. If you are having trouble with pollination you may try using a small paint brush to do it yourself. If you are not getting pollination to happen it probably means the humidity is not letting the pollen circulate. It's not really antagonized by anything you mentioned so plant away. Have a good, adaptable support system for it though. Like tomatoes pinch off suckers or they will get out of control on you.

Get cracking on planting the tomatoes, eggplant and peppers if you are doing it from seed. Watch out for caterpillars, everyday, as the temperature starts getting warmer. Leaf miners are not a problem, but will definitely hit these plants and make the leaves look unsightly. Prune..

I am not familiar with the others you mentioned so I will reserve comment. If I have made any mistakes please someone correct me, but I have planted my suggestions with success.

I hope this helped and is not confusing? If I need to clarify anything let me know. Good planting.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 10:15PM
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A link I found Companion Planting Chart.

Here is a link that might be useful: Common Garden Vegetables Their Companions and Their Antagonists

    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 9:09AM
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OK...I'm new to gardening (starting year 2)...I didn't realize that there is a danger with planting a tomato close to a pepper tree. Will someone please explain.!!!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2013 at 2:22PM
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Greenepastures, it's not dangerous to plant them near each other, but the pests that like one will like the other. Some plants compete for nutrients, though, so you want to be aware of that when you're planting veggies. As long as the plants are 2 feet apart or so, you should be fine. Suggested reading is "Carrots Love Tomatoes" by Louise Riotte -- it has lots of info on companion planting.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 1:14PM
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shavedmonkey (Harvey in South Fl.)Z10b

Lot of great ideas. An important observation I'm sure there are many successful methods that are different with the same results.

Here is what I've learned and done. I built a RBG 4' X 10' X 1.5'. Unless you are of NBA size, keep your beds 4' wide. More is usually unmanageable. And as long as you want. I would suggest to try to find a local mill that cuts cypress. A remarkable wood that does well outdoors. It is very green as it freely replaces itself if properly managed. I have 1/2" screen in the bottom for moles. It is built from 1" x10" green rough sawn cypress. There are cypress mills in reach for you. There is a top edge seat 1x8. All around. Supported by 4x6's that go 2' under ground on to the top edge. Put builders paper, the white stuff, on the insides.

I like the idea of build soil now and August or later start growing. It is all about the soil! I got 2 yards of nutritionless top soil. Then compost like crazy. I added compost material right into the bed at first. My compost recipe. A 3.5' x 3.5' cube. I'm on my final lifetime last forever unit. Made from aluminum screening frame parts with stainless steel screws. Topless and bottomless. 1/2" screen mesh. One side has a nicely engineered release panel. I add a layer of green waste from a produce source, a layer of horse manure without wood shavings, and a bag of cheap home depot dirt.

This process has obvious benefits and also a worm benefit. They like to live there. A friendly habitat for them. I just add a little water. Each batch I add a fishing worm container of red wiglers. Not needed here but I like to add more worms anyway. The benefits of the worms is legendary among gardeners.

Good luck

    Bookmark   January 29, 2013 at 4:11PM
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I'd stay away from the cheap dirt from h depot. I mixed theirs with my existing soil and it ended up like cement, had screws and plastic bits in it. Better get the cheap dirt/topsoil from a local nursery. These soils come from Delray Beach. I had good experience with their bagged soil, not as good as mixing your own, but better and cheaper than what the big box stores sell.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2013 at 10:13PM
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shavedmonkey (Harvey in South Fl.)Z10b

I've used dozens of bags of home depot dirt and never a problem. I'm sure anything can and does happen. it sounds like a one time issue for subtrop. In distribution and manufacturing anything can happen. Including your next load from Delray or anywhere. If I got stung twice from the same source it would make me reevaluate. Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2013 at 10:28PM
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Not sure if it was twice or even 3 times or even more, I tried hd dirt,same with cheap dirt from lo*es. And you're right, the soil isn't always the same, often the nursery has different soils, like the special veggie mix soil or potting soil, or the bags are mislabeled (always have to ask what's in which bag with them...), but in all over the last 2 years, their soils worked good for me.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2013 at 10:07PM
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