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Updated: Nov 26, 2023


“The biggest obstacle to good gardening is the desire to know the answers and not the questions.” Monty Don


VISTA members shared “Gardening Lessons Learned” during discussions facilitated by VISTA’s President, Jennifer Grebenschikoff, in November 2023.

When planting:

Earthworm castings (or vermicompost) are becoming Jennifer Grebenschikoff’s (BE1) top-favorite soil amendment. “I add a small handful to the seedling hole before planting, mix it in, water it in, then plant the seedling. I do the same for seed furrows before laying the seeds in and covering them. These castings are a gentle, effective, natural fertilizer that provides essential nutrients to plants.” READ MORE

Kesha Arlinghaus (AE6) said, “I learned to follow plant spacing guidelines. Seeds are so small, and I planted them very close together (in hopes I could fit everything in my bed that I was hungry for!) only to discover that as they grow they definitely need the recommended space :) Now that I know the size of full-grown plants, I understand spacing guidelines and their importance. Researching mature plant size and shape (short and bushy, tall and skinny, etc.) allows me to plan my garden more effectively and not have 100 carrots bunched together next to my peppers and celery!

When fertilizing:

Terrisa Bernard (CE2) uses fish emulsion and has been amazed at the bountiful crops harvested “since fertilizing with the stinky stuff. It really works!” READ MORE

Steve Loiacono (BW8) gets his best results from vermicompost and is sure to use balanced organic vegetable fertilizers that, in addition to macronutrients, contain micronutrients, such as calcium. He says, “Soil is the foundation of the garden. As with a house, you need a good foundation.” Plants thrive in healthy, live soil.

Bob Landrum (DW2) advises, “Don’t over fertilize and research what your specific plants need and when they need it. Nitrogen is key to early green growth. Phosphorus produces flowers and fruit. Potassium creates strong roots and provides resistance to disease.” Bob’s source is “Florida Fruit and Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Harvest the Best Edibles” by Robert Bowden, Executive Director Harry P. Leu Botanical Gardens in Orlando for eighteen years and previous Executive Director of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Director of Horticulture of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, Missouri, and the Director of Horticulture of Old Westbury Gardens, Old Westbury, Long Island, New York.

About irrigation:

Susan Baxter Gibson (CE1) said, “our automatic irrigation system provides consistent watering and coverage, improves the conditions of plants, increases yield, and we don’t have to go to the garden as often when busy with other activities.” READ MORE

Roberta Owens and Mary Ellen Dallman (AW3) prefer to water manually. “We can adjust moisture levels according to the various needs of plants. Ideally, we water early in the morning when sunlight is weakest, the ground is coolest, and foliage will have hours to dry. We avoid watering in the evening when wet foliage can attract insects, fungus and disease.” READ MORE

About when to plant:

Mark Gardiner (BE3&4) follows the age-old practice of planting by the Moon’s phase for a healthier, more productive garden. You’ll see him looking up the Farmer’s Almanac planting calendar to determine when he plants. READ MORE

Karen Rose (AE3) follows the Florida Gardening Calendar recommended by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) to plant vegetables at the optimum growing time for Central Florida gardeners. She said, “For example, I planted squash September 1st and had zucchini in thirty days. It is a quick producer!”

Karen sows squash seeds in a soil mound and waters daily. She watches for problems and applies treatments immediately. Karen uses Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) certified fungicides for powdery mildew and removes damaged leaves from the garden. She never composts them to prevent the spread of fungal disease. She applies Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) when fruit shows signs of pickle worms.

About when to replace plants:

Nicole Jagusztyn (AW5) says, “Know when to give up on a plant! Sometimes it is better to pull out a sick, damaged, or struggling plant so you can make space for a new one.”

To maximize production:

The AARP Garden Group (DW7&8) plants in succession to maximize vegetable production. Radishes produce quickly and do well early in the growing season. By the time of the radish harvest the soil temperature is cooler and conducive to growing Pak Choi. When the Pak Choi harvest goes to the Community Food Pantry (where this group generously donates their produce), temperatures are cool enough to grow lettuce.

Succession planting:

Also works well when gardeners like certain vegetables and want to produce them regularly. Rolfe Evenson (AE1&2) likes root vegetables and can seed a “new crop of” beets, turnips, etc. every 2-4 weeks through the growing season to achieve a continual harvest.

Rolfe shares two other gardening tips. He cuts the tops of leeks and onion tops and leaves much of the root to reproduce. True to style, he also says, “When growing ears of corn, be sure that they listen.”

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