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Joined: Fri Feb 24, 2012 10:31 am
Location: SW Florida

Newbie, how to get started?

I've never gardened before and want to get started. I'm just not exactly sure where to begin.

I live in South Florida, I have a nice sunny spot picked out beside my home where I would like to get started. My soil is very poor however. Its sandy/silt with very low organic matter. I don't have much money to spend on building a raised bed then buying compost to fill it with.

Would maybe planting a cover crop then turning it into the soil be the best/cost effective place to start?

Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!

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Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25279
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 6:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

As a longer term solution, start a compost pile. Eventually you will have your own free compost, which is the best thing you can do for your soil!

In the meantime, raised beds can be free if you are a good scrounger. Here's a thread where cynthia talks about building raised beds from free materials:


check freecycle, craigslist and general scrounging.

Likewise there's good soil amendments to be had for free or very cheap. Starbucks and similar places will give away used coffee grounds for free if you come with a container and ask. Stables are generally very glad to give away manure ... you may have to pile it somewhere and let it age. Every fall I collect people's bags of fall leaves that they put out to be picked up. Etc... get creative!! If you live near the ocean, sea weed is good. I have a big pond at the bottom of my hill which grows lots of duckweed. Skimmed off that is a great addition to my compost pile, but would go well just added to the soil. ... You may not have that, but just throwing ideas out to get you thinking...

If you are talking about a relatively small area, I still think raised beds with good soil in it is your best bet, just look for ways to do it within your budget. Buying bags of top soil is expensive. Getting a cubic yard or so trucked in is relatively speaking not very expensive (compared to how many bags that would be). Even if it turns out to be not the greatest, then you can start adding all the above and maybe just buy one or two bags of really good stuff to mix in...

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Super Green Thumb
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Joined: Sun Sep 26, 2010 1:10 pm
Location: ID/WA! border

Is there anything, like lawn grass, growing on that piece of ground now, NWood? I have made very good compost that was just 90%+ grass sod.

Do you think that you could plant soybeans at this time? Even I can grow soybeans each year for edamame in my garden - it has just been a matter of choosing a very early variety. [url=https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs389]The University of Florida (Annual Cover Crops)[/url] also recommends cowpeas. You may be able to find seed for either of these at a health or ethnic food store. Black-eyed peas = cowpeas.

There is something else you can find in bulk at an ethnic food store. Since they can grow in cold weather, you could probably plant Fava Beans (Vicia faba) in the fall to over-winter. With the addition of compost from kitchen scraps and whatever you may be able to "scrounge" your 2013 garden soil could be - excelente !


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Posts: 50
Joined: Sat Feb 04, 2012 7:27 am
Location: Northwest Florida

Florida gardening has its own set of challenges. Just to get started, the University of Florida's Agriculture Department has tons of information. Check https://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/veggie_gardening.html for a starting point and on that same site check their Florida Gardening Guide; https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021

Check with your county agriculture extension agent's office for some start-up help. In some counties, the Master Gardener program helps other gardeners with advice and, sometimes, with a free soil ph test. Soil testing is also available via the UF IFAS Lab for $3 for just ph test and lime recommendation, and $7 total for additional test of P, K, Ca, and Mg.

Summer planting season here in north west Florida starts in ~3-4 weeks. South Florida is likely already planting for summer. If you do tomatoes, don't delay too far into the season because once night temperatures get into the '70s tomato plants will not set fruit. Which stop new tomato production in June here in my area.

While building up the sandy Florida soil with organics is always good, chemical fertilizers will help you bring in some vegetables now, and I find no shame in using them.

Good luck

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Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25279
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 6:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

You got good advice from a fellow Florida gardener there, especially about the timing. Especially people that move to FL with gardening experience elsewhere, sometimes don't realize that the seasons are totally different there. You can grow tomatoes through the winter when my garden is buried in snow, but you can't grow them in mid-summer, when mine are at their peak.

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