How much space do I need?
If you are new to gardening, keep it small. Serious gardeners may have a 600 square foot garden, but this can be overwhelming. It’s amazing what a small garden will produce (4′x 8’ or 4×10′). To eliminate rows and have an intensive gardening plot, keep the plant bed at no more than 4′ wide; you can make it as long as you like. The bed length can run east-west and the taller crops can be planted on the north side.

What should I consider in terms of location and sunlight?
Most vegetables like 6 to 8 hours of direct sun, and morning sun is a plus. Leafy vegetables can manage with fewer hours (4 to 6). The next requirement is water. The garden should be located next to a water source. This can be a spigot and garden hose for hand watering or something more sophisticated using a soaker hose. A rain barrel could be used to water a small garden if an outside water source is not available. Make sure the site is well drained, as vegetables will not tolerate standing water.

Are there any community resources that can help with home gardening?
The Extension Service is the best deal in town. They offer classes and lots of free educational information on growing vegetables. Master Gardeners are available to answer questions (in Duval they are at the office from Monday-Friday 9am to noon and 12:30 to 3:30). To find out about classes and recommendations, check out Extension newsletters that can be mailed, emailed, or accessed through websites. In addition, plant nurseries are a wealth of information and some offer educational classes too. The Duval County website is http://duval.ifas.ufl.edu/.

What about soil testing?
Many County Extension Offices offer soil testing for pH. The ideal pH for vegetables is between 5.8 and 6.3. However, to find out about nutrient content, samples can be mailed to the University of Florida Soil Testing Lab for a more thorough analysis. The cost is $7 per sample.

How do I begin a compost for my garden?
If you are growing in the ground, our soils are typically sandy, and adding organic matter is a plus. Composting is an easy way to create your own organic matter. Many kitchen wastes and yard waste products can be turned into compost. A pile of leaves will eventually turn into compost or you can build a compost bin and layer the materials to speed up the process. Compost piles work quicker if built in layers. To start the pile, collect enough materials to build a 1 cubic yard pile (3′ x 3′ x 3′). The carbon to nitrogen ratio should be about 30:1 for fast composting. Different compost materials are given different ratings. Start with a layer of brown and then rotate with green materials making each layer about 3 to 4 inches thick; continue alternating the layers until the pile is at least 3′ tall. Water each layer lightly as they are added and firm, but don’t compact the materials. Continue the layering process until the desired height is reached. After about a week, turn the materials using a pitch fork and continue this process as needed to speed up the process.

What if I live in an apartment or don’t have a yard?
As long as you have sunlight, you can grow many fruits and vegetables in containers. The plant size will dictate the size of the container. A five-gallon pot is great for an individual tomato, pepper or eggplant. A support may be needed to hold the plant upright in the container and also to keep the plant from falling over if the area gets wind. The container must have drainage holes to allow for excess water to escape. Select a container media that has peat moss and bark, so it drains readily.

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: duval.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/JanuaryFebruary2014.pdf