The time has come to get our fall gardens in the ground! Tree Hill Nature Center has a number of gardens, such as the JEA Water Efficiency Butterfly Garden and the gardens surrounding the main building. Since 2010, Tree Hill has also been the home of the Arlington Community Garden. With 37 beds, the Garden is a partnership between Tree Hill and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville. All of the food grown in the garden is donated to the food pantry at Arlington Community Services. Without the Garden, the food pantry would only be able to give their families non-perishable items. Since the Garden began, it has donated well over 3,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Garden tends to focus on dark leafy greens, such as kale and collard greens. Carrots are also a favorite. The Garden grows flowers and aromatic herbs to attract pollinators and good bugs. Here are some tips:
- Kale and collard greens are great choices for raised garden beds or containers. Both are improved by the cold, growing sweeter after a frost. They can pollinate with each other, but that won’t be an issue if you pull the plants before they flower. As such, they can be planted within a few inches of each other to help keep your soil moist and weeds under control. Use mulch to help, too. When you’ve become comfortable growing them from seedling give them a try from seed. They grow quickly, ranging from 60 days (for kale) to 80 days (for some collards) from the time you plant a seed to harvest. Pick the leaves small to be used raw in a salad, or let them grow large to be used in a stir-fry or sautéed on their own.
- Carrots are best when planted as seeds, which can be a little tricky because the seeds are small. We recommend making a seed tape: mix some flour and water together to hold the seeds on a piece of newspaper, and space clusters of seeds a few inches apart. You’ll need soil that is at least 8” deep and drains well. After planting the seeds or your tape, sprinkle about ¾” inch of very fine soil over the seeds. They take about 10-12 days to germinate, so you’ll want to be sure the soil is kept moist, but not saturated. As they grow, they should be thinned. Little carrots make great pickles! Keep planting these veggies through the winter as they also get sweeter with the cold. After about 70 days they will be ready to harvest, which I liken to pulling out a loose tooth, twist a little this way, twist a little that way, pull gently, and repeat.
- All of these come in different varieties for rainbow colored carrots, dinosaur kale, or purple stemmed collards. Ask your nursery or try starting some from seed. We recommend Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (located in the South!), High Mowing Organic Seeds (free shipping!), or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (incredible variety and a gorgeous catalog!).
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The options in a garden are endless and it’s a great place for experimenting! There are many wonderful resources out there for novice and experienced gardeners alike, most especially from the Duval County Extension Office’s Master Gardeners. You’re always welcome to come out for a work day at the Arlington Community Garden; bring your questions!
* Please excuse my mistake in the last article. Visitors might catch a glimpse of a rough green snake, not a smooth green snake.*