Little Green Thumbs

By Danielle Torley

As a busy momma of three, I’m always looking for family-friendly activities and traditions. So when the idea of a GARDEN popped into my head a few years ago, I (naturally) started researching things like “garden layout,” “gardening in Florida,” and “Florida garden pests.” We brought in gravel, built four raised boxes, raided the Home Depot and Lowe’s garden sections, and got to planting. 

It started off perfectly – the eggplant, peppers, corn, green beans, tomatoes, and basil grew quickly and I enjoyed being outside after a long day at the office. But in the end, our yield from the first year was less than ideal. I definitely learned a few lessons about pests, soil, watering, and gardens in general. However, the kids loved it. My daughter, Annabelle (5), particularly liked watering the garden every day and planting the marigolds. So this year, I decided to consult with a couple of local women, Crissie Anderson and Sherry Currow, for their gardening tips and tricks. 

Crissie and her family have been gardening for six years. Her husband, Mike, had a garden growing up and his grandfather also kept a large garden each year. They decided to start one when their children, Payton and Finleigh, were toddlers. Their list of items is extensive and includes cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, watermelon, strawberries, corn, herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley), hot peppers, kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, and blueberries. Finleigh (8) and Payton (5) also enjoy planting and eating the food, especially the bell peppers and strawberries, lettuce, and blueberries. 

Sherry and her family have gardened for more than seven years. She and her husband, Scott, also had gardens as children and longed for a delicious BLT made with homegrown tomatoes. They enjoy educating the kids on the entire gardening process from preparing the soil, to picking the seeds and plants out, to helping plant them, and finally, harvesting. Noah (7) and Eli (5) enjoy looking at the seeds and figuring out what they want to plant as well as harvesting the food from the garden. Sherry and Scott started gardening at their home in South Walton and have continued in Destin, growing tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, blackberries, corn, carrots, strawberries, blueberries, potatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe. Sherry believes that gardening is a learning experience for her and the children. “At the end of the day, for us, it is about having patience and having fun,” she explains.  “The kids learn so much that no matter what, we work it together as a family and all watch it grow, and ultimately, when things don't work out...there's always a grocery store around the corner!” 

So what are 5 of their tips for a successful garden? Read on to get inspired! 

Tip #1: Find the Right Location. Look for an area that has a good amount of sun but also a little shade to relieve the plants on those super hot days. In my first year of gardening, our bell peppers experienced sunscald (sun damage to the outer skin due to overexposure) due to lack of shade and trees. Also consider your garden placement - too close to a wooded area may attract critters looking to snag a few berries or a ripe tomato.

Tip #2: Good soil. There are a number of ways to layer the soil and fertilizer; the trick is finding the right method for your garden. This is based on a number of factors, including whether you’re using raised beds or gardening in your soil. Sherry noted that the soil in her garden in South Walton became richer and heartier with each year of planting, but the first year of gardening in Destin was challenging due to the sandy soil. Both Crissie and Sherry suggest purchasing a composter to fertilize your garden with coffee grounds, egg shells, and other food scraps (but not meat!). 

Tip #3: Garden organization. If you’re a first-time gardener, research the symbiotic relationships of plants and where to plant them. Some plants or flowers, such as marigolds, are beneficial to gardens and will deter insects, attract bees, and act as a companion plant for other vegetables. 

Tip #4: Pest control. Unfortunately, pests can put a damper on any gardener, whether seasoned or newbie. Garden pests come in the form of insects, worms, birds, turtles, rabbits, squirrels, lizards, and larger animals such as deer. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to combat them including pesticides, natural pesticides, wire netting, and garden organization. Sherry suggests planting onions or putting eggshells in the soil. Crissie also recommends researching natural pesticides, which are easy to make at home.

Tip #5: Ask the Experts. If you have questions about pest control or plants, look to your local nursery, Home Depot, or Lowe’s employees. Also consider joining a local gardening club on Facebook such as the Niceville, FL Garden Club, the Destin Garden Club, Gardening in Northwest Florida, or Walton Country Master Gardeners.