The University of Florida Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension is in the middle of its Spring into Vegetable Gardening Series for Beginners class. Mary Derrick, residential horticulture agent with the Extension, said "The first thing you have to decide is if you're going to plant in the native soil, a raised bed, or if you're going to use containers like pots."
Derrick said building a raised garden, which tends to mean building a structure capable of holding soil and the plants above the ground, has a larger upfront cost than planting in the native soil, but ten years after maintaining one it should become cost effective. She also said building one out of existing supplies, like boards, cinder blocks, and plastic sheeting can cut costs. Derrick said using a raised garden also means clean soil since it wouldn't have weed seeds, nematodes, or fungi. An article by Terry Brite DelValle about gardening in raised beds, accessible through the IFAS Extension's Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS), said "Gardening in raised beds helps save joints." DelValle also wrote, "Another plus, soils aboveground heat up more quickly so you can get a jump on the spring gardening season."
Derrick said using the native soil has its advantages, though. She said it's a less expensive way to go and moving the garden is easier when more land is available compared to a single structure.
Derrick also said building a whole raised garden wouldn't be necessary if a family is looking to just grow a few tomato plants, for example. In that case, she said "You could just use a few pots." She also said pots dry out faster. Tomatoes and peppers Derrick said, are suitable to pots as well as bush beans. She said running beans would require a trellis. While the class is called "vegetable gardening," Derrick said, much like tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers are actually fruit.
Derrick also said a family needs to consider exactly how much everyone realistically plans to eat. "You don't need to plant 12 tomato plants or 12 cucumber plants if you don't think you'll eat that much." Derrick didn't discount selling produce but said families should avoid losing produce due to excessive planting.
Derrick also said, "You need to be on the lookout for pests so they don't devastate crops. Make sure to check under leaves. If you let it go, aphids can eat up crops." She also said gardeners need to make sure vegetables are watered well.
According to Derrick, those interested in organic vegetable gardening may wish to use an insecticidal soap for pests like aphids. She did say organic fertilizers are available but she said, "There's nothing wrong with a basic 10-10-10." According to an Extension article by J. B. Sartain, " Many common commercial fertilizers are known by their
grade, such as 16-4-8, 10-10-10, or 6-6-6. A complete fertilizer contains N, P, and K." So a 10-10-10 fertilizer according to Sartain contains 10 percent Nitrogen, 10 percent Phospherous, and 10 percent Soluble Potash, what Sartain said are called "primary plant foods."
According to Derrick, starting from seeds is much more cost effective than buying plants. She said, "Seed packets usually have way more than you need." She said, "Many people think you need to plant all the seeds you get, but that's not true. You may keep a packet of seeds multiple years and save seeds from a plant." Derrick also said the silica-gel packs that come with shoes are good to keep with seeds to keep them dry.
"Vegetables will taste so much better because they'll be fresher," Derrick said. "Store-bought carrots get bitter," according to Derrick. She said if a gardener doesn't use hem, his or her vegetables won't have any pesticides on them, a concern these days with produce shoppers. Derrick also said your food will taste better simply because you planted it. She said, "It will give you a great sense of accomplishment."