Welcome back! The planting season in Florida is fast approaching so we need to get busy. Last month we looked at how to set up your plant beds. Now that you have figured out how you want to set up your garden whether it is in the ground or in a raised bed we need to begin looking at what we need to do to get the dirt ready for planting.
If you are growing in the ground (which I don’t recommend for most areas in Florida) before you buy any inputs (a.k.a. fertilizers, compost) you need to perform a soil analysis. On Common Ground Farm even though we grow in pots with a prepared organic potting mix we still do this yearly. We happen to be very fortunate to have a great company local called Argo International Services in Orange City. They will perform a complete chemical analysis of your soil and give you recommendations for $25 a sample. All you need to do is collect few samples from different spots in your garden and mix them. About half a cup of soil is a sufficient amount. Once you get the report back (Usually in a week or less) then you can develop a plan for building your soil.
The details are more than I can go into in this month’s column, but I can touch on a few main points you need to consider. First look at the pH of the soil. For gardening purposes most vegetables prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Our soil in Florida tends to run in the 7.0 to 7.4 range. Your soil analysis should provide you with suggestions on what to use and how much. Another way to lower the pH is by adding compost. If you have the time you can make your own or you can purchase it from a local source. I suggest you avoid mushroom compost or at the very least use it sparingly. While it is cheap there is no consistency in the mix and it can cause serious problems when over applied. A good local source of organic compost is Quality Green Specialists on North Spring Garden Avenue in DeLand just north of International Speedway Blvd. Dana and Allen are a wealth of knowledge too and always glad to give free advice.
Whether you are growing in pots or in the ground the next thing you want to consider is adding some beneficial bacteria and fungi to the soil to aid in the breaking down of the compost and the freeing of the nutrients. Florida sand tends to be low in bacteria that digest organic matter. Of course that is to be expected since there is very little organic matter for them to feed on in our sand. We use two products, one is called Soil Restore and it provides the beneficial fungi the plants need. Another is a 2 part product called Quantum which provides the enzymes and bacteria the plants need. It is made right here in Florida. You can find both with a search on the internet. You might also want to check out Arbico.com. They have a huge list of products and I have found their sales people to be very knowledgeable.