From Dirt to Dinner course

From Dirt to Dinner course

Jul 15

Last month we posted about the Orange County Extension Center offering a 6-week course called From Dirt To Dinner. The course was said to cover starting seeds, growing them, pest control, the best time to harvest, preserving methods, food safety, and ultimately how to best cook the foods you grew. I currently have the luxury of having Fridays off, so I was quick to sign up for the course. I was a bit apprehensive about the $50 charge, at first however, this morning was the inaugural course and I couldn’t be more happy!
Ed Thralls and LuAnn Duncan, both Extension Center employees are the class leaders and both are walking encyclopedias in their fields. Ed, the gardening guru, did two sessions that covered basic Florida vegetable gardening, plant growth and development, soil composition, nutrients and pH. While LuAnn, who is new to the Extension center specializes in food safety, nutrition, preserving and cooking. Today, she did sessions on food borne illnesses and basic food safety in your home, then a cooking session where we made a crustless quiche and ‘dirt’ dessert cups (Her joke to end Ed’s soil information session).
I have a stack of paper handouts an inch thick from today’s session but each week I hope to be able to list out the most important or interesting things I learned in class that day.

  • Today, July 15th, is listed by the UF/IFAS as the seed starting date for Florida, for the last of your warm weather crops of the year. Start seeds as soon as possible and get them into the ground around September 1st. See this nifty guide for more information. Our growing seasons start in September with warm weather crops, then in late October with cool weather crops and then March with warm weather crops again. Summer is often to hot and too humid to grow very much without outbreaks of disease and pests.
  • Our sandy soil is called myakka, and is a very fine sand. To grow in it, we need to amend it with organic matter. The organic matter (i.e. compost) adds structure to our soil by surrounding the sand particles and allowing space for water, nutrients, and air.
  • Florida has no top soil so we need to add organic matter to our soil to create structure and add nutrients.
  • Organic fertilizers take time to break down into a plant usable form. Ideally they should be added to soil 2 month before the plants are put into it. Any organic fertilizer added now will take 2-3 months to become usable by the plant.
  • Only plant vegetables that you know you’ll eat. (Duh, but a fact often missed when the seed catalog photos are so pretty!) Group crops in your garden either by plant size or by harvest dates for easiest crop arrangement. Tallest plants to the North side of the garden and crop rows can run either north-south or east-west.
  • African Blue Basil and Dill, when planted in pots and allowed to flower are great pollinator attractants. By putting them in pots, you can then move them around your garden as needed to attract pollinators to specific areas/plants.
  • For Organic potting mix use, 1 part peat moss, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part compost.
  • Start seeds 4-6 weeks before planting date. A great seed starting pot to use is toilet paper rolls (of course, people all over do this and I just never knew about it! Check out my new video at the bottom of the post to learn how to make your own).
  • Most plants will thrive in soil at a pH that is between 5.8-6.3. Orange County and most other Extension Centers have a soil testing program that will test your pH for free.
  • Plant seeds no more then 3 times their width into the soil, keep moist, and give 14 hours of light a day (a 40 watt cool light bulb will do when their is no sun). The first leaves to appear are seed leaves and while they can photosynthesize and provide the plant with nutrients you should wait until the second set of leaves appears. These leaves are true leaves and at that point you can put seedlings into the sun and start to harden them off.
  • While we often hear about meats as being the biggest offenders in food born illnesses, but baked potatoes, TVP, raw sprouts, tofu, and sliced tomatoes and watermelons and cooked veggies are big offenders too.
  • Most bacterias thrive in 4.5-7.0 pH exactly the range for healthy plants as well, so be sure to thoroughly wash yourself and produce for at least 30 seconds when coming into the house after being in the garden.

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