While researching my gardening ventures that are yet to come, I found the University of Florida's site for growing vegetables in Florida, and the primary source of this post. Since it speaks specifically to my zone in Florida, I can get great information here. If you live in Florida, this is definitely a key site for your garden help. Go Gators!
- Follow the recommended planting date(s) listed for each vegetable. Vegetables planted "out of season" are very susceptible to many pests. Plant as early in the spring (or as late in the fall, depending on the crop) as is safely possible. Use protective covers for cold-sensitive plants.
- Rotate vegetables so that the same vegetable (or members of the same vegetable family) are not planted repeatedly in the same areas.
- Till or hand-turn the soil well in advance of planting. Insects, such as mole crickets and wireworms, for which there is no good control, are commonly more abundant in gardens that have recently been in grass. The garden should be well tilled and free of weeds, grass, and woody material at least 30 days before planting.
- Control weeds in and around the garden because they can be a source of insects and diseases. Weed control is best accomplished by mulching and hand-pulling or hoeing small weeds. Recommended mulches are straw, fallen leaves, and unfinished compost. Wood mulches and un-decomposed sawdust should not be used. Weeds around the outside of the garden and between rows can be reduced by putting down several layers of newspaper and then covering them with leaves.
- Choose adapted varieties with resistance or tolerance to nematodes and the diseases common in your area.
- Purchased transplants should be free of insects and disease symptoms (such as leaf spots or blights). Avoid transplants that are already flowering. Consider growing your own from seed.
- Plants can be protected from cutworms by placing a “collar” around the plant. The collar can be made from a bottomless plastic cup or a waxed cardboard carton. The collar should extend a few inches above and at least an inch below the surface of the ground.
- Lightweight row covers (also called floating row covers) can be used as a barrier to insects. Put in place at planting, with lots of excess material to leave room for the growing plant. Remove the cover when plants that need bees for pollination begin to flower.
- Keep plants vigorously growing and in a state of good health by supplying appropriate amounts of water and fertilizer. A healthy plant is often able to survive insect attack. Too much nitrogen, however, can make plants more inviting to aphids and whiteflies.
Monitor or scout the garden twice weekly for pest problems. This includes inspecting the plants from the bud to the soil, including both upper and lower leaf surfaces.
- Record notes on pest problems and the performance of different varieties. Include photographs of insects, diseases and beneficial insects that you find. Learn to identify beneficial insects (praying mantis, spiders, big-eyed bugs/assassin bugs, lady beetles, and all wasps). Some of these insects can be purchased, but keep in mind that many beneficial insects exist naturally in Florida, and purchased beneficials will leave if there are no insects for them to eat.
- Plant flowers in the vegetable garden. They provide nectar and pollen that attract beneficial insects.
- Large insects can be removed by hand and destroyed. Place them in a container of soapy water, where they will sink and drown.
- Watch for early disease symptoms. Remove any diseased leaves or plants to slow spread.
Most plants that produce fruits, pods, or ears can stand a 10 – 20 percent loss of leaves without loss of potential yields. Do not panic and start spraying at the first sign of leaf feeding.
- Harvest crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and beans as soon as they are ripe. Allowing over-ripe fruits to remain on the plants often invites additional insect problems.
As soon as a plant or crop is no longer productive, remove it from the garden and compost or dispose of it.
- Reduce nematode populations temporarily by "soil solarization" – a technique which uses the sun's energy to heat the soil and kill soil-borne pests. To "solarize" soil, first remove vegetation, then break up and wet the soil to activate the nematodes. Cover the soil with sturdy, clear-plastic film. Weight down the edges with additional soil to keep the plastic in place. Soil solarization should be done during the warmest six weeks of summer. High temperatures (above 130°F) must be maintained for best results.
Add organic matter to the soil to help reduce nematode populations - microscopic worms that attack vegetable roots and reduce growth and yield. Organic matter improves the capacity of the soil to hold water and nutrients and, in turn, improves plant vigor and resistance to pests.
- See also EDIS Publication CIR375, Organic Vegetable Gardening, (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH019).
Nematodes are Roundworms