One year ago, my students and I attended a gardening workshop hosted by the University of Florida’s Extension Office in Duval County. Our ambition was to start our first edible urban garden at the Downtown campus of Florida State College at Jacksonville where I teach English. Master Gardener Mary Puckett was our instructor and our consultant for the project. The workshop was called, “Start Your Own Vegetables From Seed.” At only $15 per person it was a great deal: three hours of instruction, snacks and coffee and a full seed tray to bring home. Those seeds were the beginning of a successful edible garden that began its life in our science lab/nursery. By May, we had four 4’x12’ raised beds full of lush vegetable plants: squash, cucumber, tomato, pepper, eggplant, beans and herbs.

The Extension Office’s Urban Horticulture Agent, Terry DeValle, composed the following responses to some frequently asked questions about gardening.

Further improve your gardening knowledge

What is the first step in starting an edible home garden?
Do your homework first. Do you have a good spot for a garden? Most people plant vegetables in the ground in the back yard so they don’t become an eyesore when the heat kicks in. However, vegetables can be integrated into the landscape and can be attractive. Make a list of the vegetables you like to eat and then consult the vegetable gardening guide for Florida to determine when they should be grown.
Once you determine the location and size of the garden create a plan on paper to design the proper spacing. The Florida vegetable gardening guide at the Extension Office’s site is the bible for many home vegetable growers in Florida. It can be found here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021

What are the best veggies to plant in February and March?
In February and March you can plant beets, carrots, celery, collards, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, bunching onions, English peas, Irish potatoes and radishes. In February you can also plant cauliflower, Chinese cabbage and kale.

March is a good time to start planting pole, bush and lima beans, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, southern peas, peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, summer and winter squash, tomatoes and watermelon.
Some gardeners will take a chance and plant tomatoes along with other warm season vegetables in mid to late February, but be prepared to protect young plants from a late freeze.

Upcoming workshops hosted by the Extension Office include “Growing and Eating Seasonally” on February 8th and “A Day of Gardening” on February 22nd.

For details and for more information about how to start and maintain your garden, check out the most recent newsletter from the University of Florida’s Extension Office in Duval County.