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Last Update 08/04/11

Time to Start Florida Winter Veggie Gardening

A little sweat equity can have delicious returns...

I broke ground this weekend on my vegetable plot. It is not huge, only 6x 5, but it was a bit of a chore to prepare. The plot was formerly part of a vegetable garden that I allowed to go fallow for a few years. St. Augustine grass, Richardia grandiflora and other weeds were growing very thickly and happily there. A bit of advice, if you tackle a project of this size, take your time, go inside to cool down often and drink plenty of water. Do not rush it.

The first thing I did was to mark out where my garden plot would be. I used a shovel to cut through the sod and uplift it a little to rough out the shape of my garden. My plot is in the back yard, facing to the east. This is the best spot for my garden to get the first light of the day and will be in late-mid afternoon shade to get a break from the heat.

After marking off the area I began to uplift the turf with my shovel. I did this throughout the entire plot squaring-up the sod in blocks that I could easily pull up, sort of like scalping the Earth.

If you mind dirt under your fingernails and ground in around your cuticles, you should wear gardening gloves for this next part. I used my shovel to uplift the sod clumps. I shook as much soil as possible from the roots of the turf that I uplifted. Be sure to get out as much soil as possible from the roots, you will need it for your garden. After the turf clumps were well shaken, I threw the clumps into a pile which I later moved to another part of my yard to compost.

This can be some heavy work, turning-up the clumps of turf and shaking them out so be sure to rest often, especially if it is a very warm and sunny day. Keep hydrated and wear your sun protection. Better yet, see if you can get someone to help you with the work.

After I finished removing and shaking out the turf I went back through and spaded the plot looking for any root clumps that I missed the first time through. After being satisfied that I cleared the plot I then dumped Black Kow Composted Cow Manure on it and mixed the manure in with the soil.

Next came the raking. I did this to smooth out and level my garden. This also allowed me to find and remove any straggler weeds, grass and rocks.

Rake level and smooth

The final preparation was to cover the plot with black plastic. This is a technique called soil solarization which heats the soil to help kill weed seeds and pathogens in the dirt. The correct way to do this is to place clear Visqueen on the soil and leave the plot to bake for 4 to 6 weeks. I had the black plastic so that is what I used. I also intend to keep my plot covered only until the tomato seeds I placed in my starting tray that same day are large enough to transplant into the garden. I am not doing the full solarization treatment, only a quick and dirty version of it.

Solarizing the soil

It is helpful to thoroughly wet the soil before covering it with plastic to help with heat transference through the plastic. Be sure that your plastic is in full contact with the ground (it should be if you properly raked and leveled-out your plot). Then weigh down the sides of the plastic with dirt, 2x4s, rocks, or as I did, old pieces of tile that I had lying around. This is important to keep the Visqueen from blowing away when the wind picks up.

I did place a 10cm long thermometer into the soil through the Visqueen to keep track of what the soil temperature is getting up to under the plastic and about 4 inches down into the soil. The past couple of evenings it was up above 90 degrees F when I checked it at around 7pm. The night before when I first put down the plastic it reached 85 degrees F and I suspect it will get above 100 degrees F during the hotter part of the day with full sun.

So that is how I prepared my plot for my Winter Veggie Garden. If you have any questions please visit the FloridaGardener.com Forum to post them and I will see if I can answer them. For ideas on what to plant in you Florida Winter Vegetable Garden see Florida Cool Season Veggies.


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