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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Practicing Organics in a Florida Vegetable Garden

Learning to grow a successful vegetable garden takes practice and a good dose of diligence.

Believe me, this gardener is still in the very early stages of trial and error. When I started my first vegetable garden in the spring of 2008 I didn't even know you had to fertilize the plants. I just thought if they looked good they must be doing fine. Then a former-farmer friend reminded me how they deplete the soil's nutrients quickly and need to be nourished along for the duration of their growth. That's when he handed me some Miracle-gro and proclaimed its worthiness for supplying essential trace elements.

It's been stated by many gardeners in this Florida environment that growing organically is nearly impossible.

That kind of thinking has made me even a bit more determined to discover age-old methods that enable me to exclude the use of pesticides and synthetics (including Miracle-gro) especially where the edibles are concerned.

Thinking of the garden as a whole system of living organisms working together to produce the end harvest encourages a philosophy of harmony with nature and the practice of protecting the good earth God has given us.

The proven techniques of growing organically starts as simply as attention to the soil. Each season my own composted soil is mixed with existing soil. Organic gardeners will find it very helpful to produce organic matter by saving grass clippings, allowing leaves to decay, and burying our kitchen scraps.

There have been seasons when I purchased new soil to mix with existing soil also.

But always I mix in blood meal and bone meal with the soil allowing it to ripen or set for a few weeks prior to planting. Comments about this in the past have included the smell drawing unwanted critters. Once mixed with soil I find there isn't an odor. The micro-organisms necessary to healthy soil are however brewing and during this waiting period are growing and multiplying.

Teaching the little ones to appreciate every part of our own little eco-system builds good values and character. We are learning together how to be consistent and diligent and that gently caring for a plant brings desired results. A four year old doesn't always want to walk ON the pathways but knows it is necessary to keep from compacting the good soil and its inhabitants we've taken the time to build and nourish.

If we take the time to study the beneficial insects and learn to identify the harmful ones we can most often avoid using pesticides all together. Healthy plants are not usually plagued with insects as much as a stressed plant is. Planting the right plants for our specific environment and giving them what they desire is an integral part of organic gardening.

Using flowering plants such as sweet alyssum to draw beneficial predator bugs in each vegetable bed produces a balance of nature allowing the bugs to feed off of each other rather than wiping out all beneficials with the careless spraying of pesticides.

The principles of companion planting and interplanting has become commonplace. Often this will trick the insects intent on harm as well as the fact that it maximizes space and creates an aesthetically pleasing environment.

There is nothing more therapeutic and invigorating than a few hours spent in a garden. Being privy to the delightful sights and sounds of buzzing and fluttering from critters of all sorts while we cultivate and tend to daily tasks is inspirational.

My best helper is learning how to identify 'harmful' and 'helpful' bugs with a flip chart book that lists them. We take photos and then compare their characteristics to make determinations and then discuss either their benefit or harmful deeds.

By no means am I an expert at any of this but because I get lots of questions and e-mails requesting the products I use I thought it might be helpful to some if I shared them.

A regimen of Tomato-tone every other week on the tomatoes and on the off-week Fish Emulsion hand mixed in gallon jugs is fed to everything in the garden. When the Tomato-tone is applied everything else in the garden gets a good side dressing of Sea Bird Guano or Fish Meal.

For now this is what is working for me. I am open to all advice and further helpful information. As a matter of fact, I would LOVE to hear from you. What works best for you? Have you been successful at 100% organic growing?

Life is good but growing your own vegetables and having peace of mind about where they come from makes life even better!

Happy gardening! Meems

A side note:
*** None of the manufacturers or products listed have any idea I blog or that I use their products.


  1. Meems,
    You're doing great things for the environment and for the health of your family. It's wonderful that you're also teaching your little assistant, too!

    I use the Espoma products and have always had great results -- but, I don't have a veggie garden. I did recently buy a raspberry plant for a container and of course, I grow a lot of herbs.

  2. I've been timid of growing veggies in Florida because of the bugs. I have a few in a container. My organic garden secret is mushroom compost. We have a truckload delivered almost every year. It stinks, but is packed with goodies that my plants love.

  3. At the end of the day, you are the first garden blogs that I go to. Lovely garden,feels like I would want to spend the whole day among your flowers and veggies.
    I have an outdoor compost and indoor wormbin that supply my soil amendments. I have been using fish fertilizer along with the compost/wormcastings, with great results. I recently got a comfrey plant and would like to make comfrey tea some day.
    Chemical free gardening is the way to go right in ones backyard.

  4. Meems ~ You are doing the right things it seems to me with your gardens, as they are lush and producing for you. Thanks for the tips for what you use. It is great to go organic, better all the way around.

    You are an inspiration to me.


  5. Meems: Thanks for the great tips as always! Your veggie gardens look so lush and also pretty. Now I know how much work and diligence is behind that look. I will try some of your tips this year to grow some veggies. I have to admit that I still rely on miracle-gro, or Osmocote for my plants needs. However I am slowly learning from all of you about composting,and the natural way to feed the plants. Thanks!!!

  6. Thanks Meems for that post, and yes it really is worthwhile to go organic. I read that the vegetables you purchase in the supermakets these days look the same, but have on average about 50% less nutrients than the vegetables of 20 years ago! when they were all grown organically! We have different products here in Australia, and the one thing I use a lot of is seaweed, fresh and as a tea. Comfrey is also excellent, and my homemade compost. My soil is full of worms so I must be doing something right :) Besides the fact that it just feels right. Happy gardening.

  7. meems,
    it is so nice to be able to know exactly what we are putting in our bodies from our own feels pure.
    gardening organically is such a great way to is teaching us so many things...i love finding out about old remedies that work.
    thanks for sharing all your good info.
    we are getting our beds ready. the weather couldn't be any nicer.
    happy springtime gardening.

  8. What a fantastic post..perfect for me currently as I am working with the local extension office to become a Florida friendly yard (although it doesn't include veggies yet). We just installed our rain barrel today and I want to begin composting, although I don't have room for another large barrel or box. I noticed that a friend of mine uses shoebox size plastic bins and hides them underneath plants. There was no odor when I passed by, but they sit quietly creating a fantastic garden cocktail. What do you use to produce your compost?

  9. Meems, thanks for an informative post. I learned something from it. Your garden always looks great. Now I know why.
    Have you ever heard of Milorganite? It is the by product of human waste that has been processed. Or so I've been told {will research it further} I find it works for me here. It's organic, slow release, & it's not expensive.

  10. I am so happy to hear that you want to do the right thing.
    We compost all kitchen scraps into the garden. I also work cow or sheep manure into the soil, esp the veggies and herbs, and that works like a "miracle".
    All my fertilizer is free, we are using less space in landfill and there is no environmentally devastating chemicals. The manufacture of chemical fertilizer also takes a heavy toll on our environment in addition to its use.

  11. Thanks for the tips on fertilizing. I find that is the one thing that I have a hard time practicing. I will give it a go though, as I am raising veggies organically for our family this year. You're helping me green up my thumb! dory

  12. Do you have any suggestions for an organic way to get rid of ants in the garden?

  13. What an informative post. I am growing my first vegetable garden and worked hard to prepare the soil with bone and blood meal along with compost. Somehow, using Miracle-Gro has not entered my mind. I do not plan on using any. I do plan on enriching my soil each season as I dig up and then plant new vegetables.

  14. Meems,
    Your bountiful garden is proof that organic methods do work here in Florida.Each season your soil is becoming more healthy and not being further depleated. I think all the chemical fertilizers and pesticides were produced for large agriculture production and are not needed for the home garden. Somehow the producers of the chemicals brainwashed us on forgetting the old methods and relying on shortcuts. Seems like lots of folks are wising up now that it is becoming apparent just what dangerous mixtures we have been eating with our foodcrop and has been draining into our drinking water. Keep up the good work your blog is an encouragement!

  15. What a beautiful bouquet of radishes~~I can imagine that your garden assistant felt so proud knowing he grew them. Thank you for reminding me that Sweet Alyssum draws
    beneficial insects...I plant it for the sweet scent and it gives color to the edges of the garden! I'll add some to the planted of veggies I am putting together...

    Your garden photos are so lovely...and I agree totally, there is no reason a working vegetable garden can't be productive, healthy and attractive. gail

  16. Bit wary of guano. South Africa's penguins used to nest in a thick layer of guano on offshore islands. Now the guano is gone a charity sponsors concrete 'penguin nests' so the birds can continue to breed. Organic is also about sustainable. Where is your guano source? We use horse manure, because there is a stable down the road.

  17. Excellent advice, Meems, no matter what zone a gardener lives in! Honestly, I don't add any fertilizer to my vegetables, other than trying to add a layer of compost before planting. I usually dump as many leaves on the garden, too, in the fall, hoping they will break down somewhat and add more nutrients to the soil.

    As for insects, the main problems I have are with squash or cucumber beetles. In the past, though, I've had more than enough zucchini to share with them by the time they arrive:) I usually plant some marigolds in the garden, because they supposedly keep insects away (this may not be true, though), but thanks for the tip on the alyssum.

    What a wonderful job you're doing of teaching your grandchildren how to care for this Earth!

  18. Does growing organic exclude the nuclear option?

  19. Yay Meems!!

    I too have encountered the "can't do organic" attitude in Florida. (Of course this conversation got funny when a co-worker kept mixing organic with the word orgasmic, but that is another story!) Me and my daughter do the worm compost thing which is so much fun. The little one loves to pick worms out of the rich dark compost.

  20. Cameron,
    The Espoma products have a good thing going on. Would love to grow raspberries... can't wait to see how yours fare.

    I've used a couple different types of mushroom compost. One I bought from a nursery in Tallahassee and the other is a dry form sold in bags at my garden center. Good stuff.

    Pineapple Sage,
    There are many good things to use when gardening organically. We seem to have lots of worms in our soil which is a good thing, too. I've been checking into the comfrey. Very interesting stuff I'm reading.

    I've slowly evolved away from chemicals in the veggie garden and it is such a good feeling. It is amazing how many beneficial bugs visit daily.

    Not to worry... I still use an Osmocote type product on some of my flowers. I'm not convinced yet I could do without it all together. The advantage is the slow release aspect that allows us 3-4 months not to think about fertilizer. But for the most part I'm not fertilizer-happy. There are some years I go without fertilizing (my shrubs and perennials)at all. Amending the beds with organics seems to do the trick.

    Seaweed just sounds like a good, natural amendment. You've got a good thing going on with your organics.

    I like the sound of pure. I'm happy for you getting to be out and about again in your garden. Getting it ready is almost as fun as getting it planted out. Your weather sounds so delightful and I'm happy for you after such a harsh winter.

    Good for you taking the time to become a Florida-friendly yard and get certified. I really need to do that sometime soon. Because my yard is so large I hide my compost in the 'back 40' behind large shrubbery. I don't use an official bin ~~ two large piles that I add grass clippings, leaves, shredded papers, kitchen scraps and healthy plant cuttings to. It's probably more like a cold-compost with lots of earthworms ~~ but it works very nicely for me as I rotate the use of each one as they break down.

    I DO use milorganite for my shrubs occasionally and in the summertime on the lawn. It used to be lots less expensive but has increased substantially in the last few years. A really good product.

    I especially like the idea of learning how the old-timers produced good food sources long before chemicals were produced.

  21. Dory,
    Good for you. I hope your veggies give you great satisfaction. I know your family will appreciate all your hard work.

    I'm sorry. Don't know much about that. But you made me think that I haven't had a problem with them in many years. I used to fight them all the time when I was killing off all the beneficials along with the harmful bugs.

    It doesn't surprise me that you are on the right track already. Good luck with your first veggie garden.

    Thanks for the words of encouragement. It is becoming more apparent to me each year how nice it is to let nature have its way rather than fighting it. Somehow when gardens are attentively care for everything seems to balance out nicely.

    This week the veggie garden really took off with a week of warm temperatures. Lots of critter activity buzzing around. My little fellow was VERY proud of his radish bouquet!

    Elephant's Eye,
    I've used well-aged horse manure this year also. My son has access to it and brings it to me occasionally. The seabird guano resource is dirtworks/New Enlgand

    Isn't it nice the little ones want to know... so curious about everything. You are doing a good job amending your soil. Oh, those squash borers are a true problem! I'm not at all sure how to deal with them organically. Right now the zucchini and squash are growing beautifully. Crossing my fingers.

    Ha! Not sure what a good answer is to your comment. Surely there's a double meaning I just don't get.

    Finding earthworms and carrying them around to various places in the garden to watch them scurry through the soil is one of my little fellows favorite things to do, too.

  22. I didn't know about Alyssum drawing beneficial insects. Thanks Meems! It would look so pretty amongst the veggies. Companion planting is something I need to study more.
    We make our own compost and do our best to keep things natural. We just purchased a lawn sweeper in order to use the grass clippings as mulch. It will replace the hay mulch we've used in the past (which my hubby has to stay away from because of his "farmer's lung").
    Your veggie garden is as pretty as a picture, and your little helper is being well educated. How wonderful for both of you to be able to work together in the garden :)

  23. Wonderful to see the little ones getting involved in the garden! I have a 4-year old Goddaughter and several little toddler nephews/nieces/friends that have yet to visit my garden, but I am hoping that seeing the veggies grow will be as exciting as it looks for the little helper in your photos! And don't those radishes just look beautiful! Wow!

    I totally agree with what Marmee said earlier-- "it is so nice to be able to know exactly what we are putting in our bodies from our own feels pure." I have always felt that way about cooking-- why should gardening be any different, since everything I grow will go into my tummy anyway? ;9

    I will admit that for this first year in this bed I am using a synthetic feed because I don't know what nutrients are left in the soil. I have started a small compost pile and will be smooshing down the entire growing area in the fall to do a lasagna-type preparation for next year. DBF's aunt has claimed to grow her garden entirely without chemical additives so I am hopeful that our Alabama soil can support my ambitious gardening project!

  24. Before I read this post, I assumed you had been raising vegetables as long as you have flowers. Thank-you for sharing your experiments as well as your experience. I'm also trying to use organic gardening methods for my vegetables. I've started a small 4-foot square garden with a soil mix made from vermiculite, peat moss and compost. We are waiting to see how successful it is.

  25. Hi Meems,

    Your garden is absolutely stunning as is your blog. I'm amazed at how hard I know you've worked to achieve the results you have. I agree that organic is the only way to go and I practice organic gardening in my front and back yard veggie gardens. It is possible and I'm even further south than you being due west of Hollywood.

    Happy gardening.

  26. Kerri,
    Farmer's lung sounds serious and a lawn sweeper is foreign to me. It sounds like a good solution though. We bag our lawn clippings behind the mower and dump them on the compost pile. Companion planting is not scientific but it surely makes the whole experience a lot more fun and aesthetically pleasing.

    Your new compost pile will soon be helping you supplement the nutrients in your soil. The more amending the less chemicals you will need. I've used the lasagna type method for getting rid of grass and it works well. Children just have a way of appreciating every new discovery and they seem to be especially drawn to nature. Your toddlers will have fun if you let them do some activities. They love to get involved.

    That's a good combination of soil mixture that should bring you some good results. You've taken on quite a bit in your first Florida garden. I know you are going to have lots to share with us.

    My Edible Yard,
    I'm so glad you shared you garden organically, too. The further south you go the more challenges there are. I imagine that to be so anyway. Your cool period being so much shorter than ours and ours is short! Already the humidity is creating challenges this week. Oh well, more to learn...

  27. This post is waaaay over; but, I stumbled across it and just had to post. I am 100% in favor of organic gardening. If you feed the soil, your plants will be beautiful and your earthworms will LOVE you...the soil and thus the plants love earthworms...and so the cycle goes.

    I grow roses and never spray for any reason. What is a little blackspot in a garden anyway! Interestingly enough when I got rid of all my tea roses and started planting OGR's...very little blackspot or fungus...I have not had a veggie garden, but if I did, I would not use anything other than organics. I am very protective of my beneficial insects and all my garden creatures. So, don't let anyone tell you that it can not be done in can have a lovely garden without polluting the environment!

    My favorite organic is fish emulsion, but we also shovel horse manure from a local stable and let it sit for a while to kill all the weed seeds and allow it to cool off so it won't burn the flowers....our neighbors love us...but, it only smells for a few days! LOL

  28. I know this is an old post, but I really enjoyed it. One of my new goals is to go 100% organic.


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

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