I need so much help with my (organic) garden in Lakeland!

pinkgator(9)April 21, 2012

Where to begin?!?!? I'll just start a laundry list with my questions... I wish I could post pictures... But I am so new to this forum and gardening! I have posted a few times before and got great help. Now I have our garden that my 2.5 yr old and I tend to, but I really have no idea what I should be doing.

All my questions will go in order of how my garden is laid out- so broccoli is in the front... Also my garden is about 12x12, although I think I have convinced my husband to take more out so u can maybe plant some cucumbers, but I don't know if it's to late to start them here...

1. Broccoli- planted in Jan maybe... I have a bunch of it fairly close together- maybe between 4-8 in apart. Plants are about 1-1.5 ft tall, pretty hearty leaves, but no broccoli buds in center yet. No leaves are yellow or anything and nothing is showing signs of near death.

- I assume I planted this at wrong time of year. Should I pull it all up? Do I need to thin it out?

2. Brussel sprouts- planted about 4-8 inches apart... About 8 inch high plants on average. Very green, no signs of near death, but growth seems to be slowing down.

- is it wrong season? Are they too close together?

3. Tangerine Pimiento Sweet Pepper- planted so close together... Some within an inch of each other. They are about 6 inches tall. A could have 1 white flower each on them.

- season? Thin out?

4. Tomatoes (planted from seed in late Jan)- planted quite close together- some within inches of each other. Heights ranging from 8-18 inches. A few have little yellow flowers.

- did I plant these too late? Should I thin them out? Am I going crazy, but I swear maybe as a child, I remember someone saying to pinch off the early flower buds. I haven't yet, for fear I am nuts ;)

5. Peas- I thought they were green beans. They grew great for awhile, I put up stakes and netting for them to climb. They climbed for a couple weeks. Then they all died at the same time. So now I have the netting still up, and I just pulled out all the dead plants.

- can I plant green beans from seed now, or is it too late?

6. Mustard Greens- HOLY mustards! The leaves are like 2.5 ft tall... Most have like thick stalks with yellow flowers, some above 5 ft tall!

- is it too late to pick them if they have flowered?

Behind the mustards, I have stuff planted in like 2x3 rectangles.

7. Lettuce- variety. Leaves growing well.

- what is best way to trim them?

8. Swiss Chard- planted from seed like 2 weeks ago. Nothing has sprouted.

9. Radishes- planted 2 weeks ago. Seems they have all just sprouted.

10. Watermelon Moon & Stars- planted 2 weeks ago. In 1 single back row, they have all sprouted with 3 little leaves.

- did I plant too late?

11-15. Tomatoes and Peppers- I ordered transplants from the Seedsavers Heirloom catalog. They arrived late march. My dog trampled my Roma :-(. I have 3 different tomatoes and 2 different peppers. These are the varieties I think I have- cherokee purple or rosso sicilian or speckled roman, lemon drop, mexico midget.. Peppers- jimmy nardello's, tolli's sweet Italian.

- they seem to be growing well. A couple have a few flowers (do I pinch them?). And one already has a tiny green tomato (do I pinch that?)

16. Tbd- I have seeds from seed savers of cucumbers- Early Fortune, True Lemon, Crystal apple, Edmonson.

- is it too late to plant them?

17. IN EARTHBOX- herbs- basil and 2 different kinds of parsley.

- how do I trim?

18. (random ?). I have citronella plant. A couple in pots by my front door, and a few in backyard.

- will they grow/spread?

19. Weeds- I have all sorts of little weeds in the garden. Do I pull them all? Some seem to be low-lying ground cover ;). Others are extremely prickly/spiky, some have little purple flowers, others are like itty bits of grass. Is it so necessary I get rid of all of them? I don't want to use anything toxic on them since my 2.5 is always in garden, and because we eat almost completely organic.

Sorry so many questions! I am clearly clueless. We are doing an organic garden, so the only thing I have put on anything is Jobe's organic tomato fertilizer.

If anyone would like to send me their email by private message, I can email you photos of what I have going on... Maybe even for a good laugh for you ;-).

Please help!

Have a wonderful weekend!!!

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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

Hi and welcome!

First of all, we've *all* had a first garden. Gardening is a labor of love. Like relationships with people, in your garden you'll have good times and tough times. If you watch and learn from your plants, you'll have more good times. :-) One of the beauties of gardening is that you never stop learning. There are lots of gardeners who know far more than I do, and even they are still learning. So never be embarrassed to ask for advice!

One thing that most every new gardener has to learn is to plan for the mature size of the plants. It's hard to imagine a tiny seed growing into a plant taller than you or a vine 15' long in one growing season, but it happens!

3. Tangerine Pimiento Sweet Pepper - Yes, you should thin them now to a 12" minimum spacing. They won't be able to produce peppers while they are competing with each other for water, sun, and nutrients. Don't pull since they are so close together - you might damage the roots of the plants you want to keep. Instead, thin by snipping off the stems of unwanted plants just above the ground. Keep the biggest and healthiest-looking plants.

4. Tomatoes - You should thin these, too. Tomatoes need at least 2'-3' between them, because if they are healthy, most types will grow into BIG plants. You also need to figure out what you're going to do about support (stakes, cages, trellis), or if you're going to let them sprawl. If you're going to let them sprawl, they need even more ground space. If you are going to use supports, you should install them as soon as you can after thinning the tomatoes.

Pinching early tomato flowers is one of those things gardeners argue about. Most commonly, the advice is that you should pinch flowers off small plants that are still in cell packs or small pots; once the plants are settled in the ground (or a large container) you don't need to pinch any more. Since yours are in the ground and several inches tall, I don't think you need to pinch.

11. - 15. Heirloom tomatoes & peppers: Sounds like a nice selection! See above for spacing. If your heirloom tomatoes are planted too close together, now is the time to move them. Tomatoes tolerate transplanting well, especially if you bury them deeper when you transplant.

Earthboxes or other self-watering containers are especially good for peppers. If peppers undergo water stress they make fewer and smaller fruit; self-watering containers keep a constant moisture level. (Large sweet peppers are pickier than small, hot types.) If you use an Earthbox, four to six - no more than six - peppers per Earthbox work beautifully. 4-6 little pepper plants may look lost in an Earthbox now, but they will fill it completely in a couple of months, trust me. If your heirloom peppers are too close, maybe you could get another Earthbox or other SWC for some of them?

19. Weeds: Unfortunately, you will need to keep up with the weeds. They are small now, but they'll overrun your garden later and out-compete your vegetables for sunlight, water, and nutrients. You can pull or hoe the weeds - be careful with the hoe around your veggies, but a hoe is definitely much faster than hand-pulling for clearing paths between rows.

I do everything possible to avoid weeding, because it is my least-favorite garden activity (especially in July and August!). A deep mulch around your veggies is the way to go. Many weed seeds need light to sprout, and a thick layer of mulch blocks the light. It also holds in moisture so you don't have to water so much. Even with a thick mulch, you'll need to weed some, but the mulch will make a huge difference. Mulch also helps keep dirt from splashing onto the plants, which is important for tomatoes and melons.

The most troublesome weeds are grasses and other weeds that spread underground or resprout from the root, because they will come right up through the mulch. Your best option is pulling them immediately, every time they resprout. If you are diligent, you can eventually exhaust them. (They have to expend energy to resprout; if you pull them before they have time to recover that energy from the sun, eventually they get too weak to sprout again.)

For paths/walkways, put down several layers of newspaper or a layer of cardboard (e.g., old shipping boxes) and then mulch on top of that. The paper or cardboard is really hard for weeds to push through, and can block some - not all - of the grasses and root-spreading weeds, too. Don't put it right up to your veggies, though, because sheets of newspaper or cardboard block some of the rainfall.

Good luck with your new garden!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 2:48PM
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carolb_w_fl(zone 9/10)

Not much I can add to L's excellent detailed reply, but I can share a link to the Univ. of FL's guide on veggie gardening here. They have spacing info (along w/ recommended planting dates) for most veggies in Table 3...

Here is a link that might be useful: EDIS Veg Gardening Guide

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 10:43AM
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carolb_w_fl(zone 9/10)

Floridata.com also has some good info on a number of veggies & herbs. You can use the Plant list, Datagrid, or simply type the name of the plant in the search box @ the top of the page...

HTH & good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Floridata.com

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 10:50AM
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Okay.... I just realized I have a problem!!!

I hate "killing" baby plants! I could not bring myself to thin out the tomatoes, pimiento peppers and the Brussel sprouts...

So I probably killed most my garden ;-). This is what I did....

It took forever, but I loosely dug around clusters of plants, followed their roots to the best of my ability without breaking them... Then once out of the ground, I shook them lightly until their roots untangled themselves. Then I replanted everything throughout the rest of the garden. I had more room because I pulled up all the mustard greens because their stalks were so high, their leaves looked a little rough. So I planted the tomatoes and pimientos along the netting (which was right in front of the greens, and where I pulled all the dead pea plants the other day).

So... More questions...

Do you think I killed everything?

The tomatoes seemed to instantly wilt once I moved them, I put Jobe's organic tomato food around them and watered them pretty heavily. Do you think maybe those have hope?
How high are the pimiento pepper plants supposed to get before they produce peppers? Once I started moving them, I noticed even more had tiny flowers or soon to be flowers on them... But the plants themselves aren't more than 6 inches tall with only a handful of small green leaves.
In my earth box, my basil is coming to a burly cluster point at the tip, should I pinch that off?

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 6:56PM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

If you got them back into the ground promptly and watered them, most of the tomatoes and peppers will probably make it. I have no idea about the Brussels sprouts, since I have never grown them.

Be very careful to keep the plants you moved consistently moist (don't let them dry out and don't drown them) for several days - until you see new growth. If it's hot, try to check on them at least twice a day. Don't be surprised to see some wilting during the recovery period, especially during the heat of the day. Separating the roots of the plants probably caused root damage, and even if the soil is damp, their damaged roots just can't take in enough water to supply the plants' needs. The only other thing you can do to help them recover is to provide some light shade (like shade cloth) during the hottest part of the day for the next week or so. Partial shade will reduce the plants' need for water while they grow more roots.

When you see strong new growth, you know they are going to make it, and you can gradually adjust back to a normal watering schedule. But the shock of having their roots disturbed ("transplant shock") may set them back for a while. Don't be surprised if blooms and/or baby fruits drop due to the stress. When the plants recover, they'll make more.

You'll know in a few days. Good luck!

P.S. - Beside the netting is a good place for tomatoes. You can train them up the net as they grow. :-)

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 7:58PM
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Well, I am not qualified to answer all these questions, but as for the not wanting to kill baby plants...me too. But you need to start earlier if you want to do what you did successfully. I pull the little tiny, like 1/2 inch, seedlings and replant them in another pot. At that size, there's not much root to pull up, and I've had pretty good luck with it. Just a suggestion for in the future! :)

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 9:00PM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

I understand about not wanting to kill baby plants; I still wince in sympathy when I thin seedlings...sometimes I even apologize to them! But sometimes you really need to do it so that the remaining plants can be healthy and produce.

If it helps you, remember that in nature the vast majority of seeds do not make it into a successful plant. (By "successful plant" I mean a plant that manages to produce mature seeds.) Let's take the example of a tomato plant. Think about it: a healthy tomato plant produces dozens of tomatoes, and each tomato contains many seeds. If all - or even 10%! - of the seeds grew into successful plants, every part of the world with a suitable climate would be overrun with tomatoes! What really happens is that most of the seeds don't end up in places where they can germinate or grow much past germination. Of the few seeds that land in suitable spots, most of those are eaten by bugs or critters, succumb to disease, are crowded out by other plants, or are killed by bad weather (drought, storms, floods, or frost) before they can mature their fruit. So only a tiny fraction of the seeds produced by the original tomato plant ever manage to mature their own fruit.

So, no matter how many plants you thin, plants in your garden still have a lot better shot at survival than they do in the wild. And because they are cared for, they will be bigger and healthier during their lives, too.

Philosophy aside, if you still can't bring yourself to kill baby plants, then you'll need to learn to plant seeds for (or buy) only the plants that can grow successfully in the space you have. This is not so hard when buying transplants...if you want 12 peppers you can buy 12 pepper plants and have very good odds of getting them all to fruit. The problem is sowing seed. If you sow exactly what you need you may end up short because seeds usually don't all germinate, and some of the seedlings may die young.

This is a bigger issue with some plants than others. For example, radishes pop up in a few days; you can sow exactly what you need and if some don't come up, you sow more seeds in the bare spots. Carrots can take a couple of weeks to germinate, but most gardeners tend to plant a lot of carrots, so if a few don't make it, it is no big deal. On the other hand, peppers can take 3 or occasionally even 4 weeks to germinate. By the time you realize some of your peppers aren't coming up, or some of the seedlings die young, it might be too late to start new seeds. Even if it's not too late, the new seeds will be a month or more behind in getting to production. So, with plants that are slow to germinate or grow slowly as seedlings, most gardeners sow a bit extra and thin. In the future, if you sow peppers and tomatoes in cells or pots rather than in the ground, you can sow a few more than you need, and then if you wind up with extras, you can probably give them away. You can almost always find people happy to take free tomato and pepper seedlings.

Or you can do what my neighbor did and sneak them onto people's porches like foundlings. (I thought people only did that with extra zucchini?)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 10:25AM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

I meant to answer the basil question. It sounds like your basil is about to flower. Whether this is good or bad depends on what you want.

Some basil gets bitter if allowed to flower, so the leaves may not be as good for cooking. If you have just one plant and want to have leaves for cooking, you will want to snip off the flower buds. Once the basil starts trying to flower, it will keep trying. You'll need to snip off flower buds regularly from now on.

On the other hand, flowering basil is a bee magnet. If you need to attract bees to your garden to pollinate other things (watermelons need bees, unless you learn to hand pollinate), let the basil flower. Also, if you're only growing one type of basil, if you let it flower and seed, you can save the seeds to plant in the future.

Basil is fast and easy to grow from seed, so if you decide to let the basil flower and the leaves get bitter, you can always grow more plants for leaf production. Basil is good to plant near tomatoes; they get along as well in the garden as well they do in the kitchen. :-)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 10:36AM
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carolb_w_fl(zone 9/10)

FYI, when transplanting plants from the ground, it's better to water well so soil will stick together, then use a trowel to cut around and under the plant @ least several inches away from the main stem, about the size of the root mass (hint: roots will be @ least as big as the plant), then gently lift the plant, trying to keep the soil intact around the root ball as you move it to its new location. If it's going in the ground, have the hole already prepared, if it's going in a pot, have the pot @ hand, so you don't have to move it very far.

After placing the plant, water well to settle the soil. I like to water w/ seaweed extract, which seems to help prevent shock.

FWIW, many veggie plants can have numerous small, practically invisible roots that will be destroyed by trying to remove the soil around them. & some types of veggies - like beans & peas - hate being transplanted.

P.S. I've never heard of any kind of basil getting bitter when flowering - in fact I often use the flowers as well as the leaves. & I understand that it's a good idea to cut basil further down the stem, rather than harvesting just the tips. I try to cut @ least 3 inches or more, depending on the size of the plant. New branches will grow from the base of leaves just below the cut.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 10:56AM
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