Want a great reason to spring into gardening? In addition to eggplant, okra and homegrown tomatoes there’s homegrown happiness. According to Discover Magazine, gardens may provide the new Prozac. Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil microbe, has been found to mirror the effect on neurons that antidepressant drugs provide. Check out www.discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/raw-data-is-dirt-the-new-prozac for more information.
This does not come as a shock to most gardeners who find their garden a natural happy spot. Indeed, Robert Rodale, founder of the Rodale organic empire, says, “In almost every garden, the land is made better and so is the gardener.” And an anonymous someone added, “Gardening is a strange occupation because if you creep up behind a gardener at his work, you will find him smiling.”
Spring is a good time to fill the gardening prescription. Terry DelValle, UF’s IFAS Duval Extension Agent has a short list of DIY steps. 1) Prepare garden area for planting and plant as soon as temperatures are consistently warm. Add organic matter if necessary. 2) Harden off vegetable transplants by placing them in partial shade. Or trot down to your local garden store and purchase your transplants already hardened by sitting for days on wire racks in concrete rooms. 3) Plant outside on a cloudy day or late in the afternoon. 4) Monitor plants for insects and small caterpillars. Depending on the pest treat with a product like insecticidal soap or Bacillus thuringiensis. 4) Wait for soil to heat up before planting seeds like beans and okra 5) Avoid adding mulch to soils until they heat up.
For more in depth information, the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021 covers site preparation, irrigation, pest control, and almost every other possible topic. Veggies that get the go ahead according to DelValle are: beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, southern peas, peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkin squash, tomatoes, and watermelon. To really zero in on the recommended varieties, the vh021 site provides names.
Peppers are a good choice for the patio or small pot garden as they give the gardener lots of produce in a limited area. Mary Puckett, garden guru at IFAS, has the following words of wisdom: set transplants 12-24 inches apart. They need 6-8 hours of sun and well-drained soil. Fertilize at planting and apply supplemental fertilizer 2-3 times starting after the first flush of pepper. Keep an even moisture supply. Her suggestions for mild and sweet peppers are: Big Bertha PS F1, Bounty F1, Bullnose, California Wonder PSF1, Gypsy F1, and Revolution F1. For Hot peppers her choices are: Early Jalapeno F1, Datil, and Hungarian Hot Wax Poinsettia.
Just in case you are concerned about more than a vine ripe tomato, for a quick look at how our landscape choices affect the entire food web, see the March 2015 issue of www.nativeanduncommonplants.com. Leslie Pierpont quotes modern ecology prophet Doug Tallamy who received a standing ovation at the Cummer last year. What’s stopping you? The weather is warming up, so get planting!