Backyard Gardening – Make it a Family Affair!

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Backyard Gardening – Make it a Family Affair!

It’s that time of year again! Spring is in the air and it’s the perfect time to be thinking about your Florida backyard garden.

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Have you made a resolution to eat more whole foods this year? Maybe you want your kids to eat more vegetables? I am not promising that growing a garden will magically make them shout for carrots and peppers every night, but it does contribute to mindful eating. Mindful eating is when we slow down and appreciate what we are putting in our bodies. When kids go through the process of sowing seeds, cultivating and watching plants grow, it makes them much more aware that food is something precious and not to be taken for granted. You might be thinking that you don’t have the space (or patience!) for a garden, but with some helpful tips from the University of Florida’s Agricultural Extension Office, you and your family can grow something you can all be proud of this summer!

To start with, you will want to figure out the best place for your vegetables to grow. For best results, choose a well-drained site close to a source of water and in a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Our first garden was approximately 6 x 10 feet in size. Over the years, it has expanded as we wanted to plant more vegetables and became more comfortable with how much time was involved in maintaining the garden. It is suggested where possible, to rotate the garden from place to place to help control soil diseases and other pests. We also contained our garden with chicken wire about 4 feet high – mainly to keep our dog out, but it has served to discourage other wildlife from getting into the plants as well.

Most Florida soils are sandy in texture and have a low percentage of organic matter; therefore, your soil will benefit from the addition of organic matter such as animal manure, rotted leaves, compost, or commercial soil mixes. Composted organics may be applied at planting time; un-composted organics (such as fresh grass clippings) should be mixed into the soil at least a month before seeding. Due to the low and inconsistent levels of nutrients in compost, a fertilizer (organic or inorganic) can be beneficial. More information on fertilizers and nutrient management can be found in the publication Organic Vegetable Gardening in Florida accessed at We found that in our situation, a raised bed box (approximately 12 inches) worked best to keep the soil contained.

If you are limited by space, do a little research to see how much room your plants will need when fully grown. We know by personal experience that sweet potatoes tend to take a lot of space, but because they aren’t ready to harvest until later in the fall, our summer garden is done and we don’t mind giving them the extra space they need.

Whatever you decide to plant this year, be assured that you are teaching your children a great lesson about life – that food doesn’t come from a store! Teach them to be mindful of what they eat and have some fun along the way!

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By: Aurea Thompson