While much of the northern states are fighting the cold, snow, and ice… here in the southern regions, we are in the midst of prime gardening season. Sometimes, I think I should feel bad about it, but then I realize… I paid my dues in the midwest for over 35 years. So, instead, I look out the window at the thriving tomato plants, harvest some winter greens, and get out some more seed trays for planting new starts. January is one of the best months for the vegetable garden. Tomatoes and peppers are ripening, eggplants are forming on the bush, more radishes and beets are ready every day, and the tropical greens are going crazy.
In the food forest, it can really vary depending on the winter, so in the south we really have to be willing to flex from year-to-year, but that’s what makes it interesting and keeps us on our toes.
Here are some our hit list items on the January Gardening To-Do List for Zones 9-11.
In the Garden & Greenhouse
Plant from seed: Onions, beets, radish, carrots, corn, cucumbers, winter peas, squash, gourds, zucchini, turnips, watermelon. You can also keep doing many greens like arugula, lettuces, mustards, and komatsuna greens (or bok choi).
From Seedlings: Cabbage, collard greens, eggplants or peppers, Swiss chard, tomatoes. If it’s a warm winter, then I also plant potatoes and sweet potatoes now. If we are honest, I would still plant them on a cooler winter (just because).
Harvest: All tropical spinaches, ginger, turmeric, African potato mint, galangal. Harvest tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants as they ripen. If you have extra, leave a few on your neighbors front porch.
Bring in cuttings from tropical spinaches (longevity, Okinawa, Surinam, Bele, South Sea Salad) so you have “insurance” if they freeze off during the winter. Also, save slips (cuttings) from your most successful sweet potato vines and and start rooting them in water indoor.
Watch tomatoes and squash for any signs of powdery mildew. If you see anything, give them a quick spray with Basic H and organic Neem Oil and you’ll be all set.
Turn the compost pile every week to keep things decomposing over the winter. Add an occasional bucket of water to keep moisture levels up, especially if there are a lot of leaves in the pile.
Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (We use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO).
Start planning for your first time fertilizing in late February (order compost, fish emulsion, etc). Typically I do my first foliar spray in February and the compost and/or soil amendments in March.
In the Food Forest
Plant: Loquats, peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, blueberries, elderberries, figs, persimmons, and other cold hardy trees.
Prune existing peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, etc. Remove branches that are preventing light from getting to other branches. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting. This is the most optimal month for pruning (all trees except mango and avocado).
First Year Flower / Fruit Removal: Personally, I always remove the flowers / fruit from trees the first year or two they are in the ground. This allows all the energy to go to healthy root and branch development. If you leave even a few flowers / fruit, then the tree will automatically take up more phosphorus and potassium, instead of focusing on getting established.
Grafting Scions: Get avocado cuttings and start grafting. This is a great month to graft avocados in most (subtropical / tropical) areas. CLICK HERE FOR A TUTORIAL
If you slacked off this winter and did not refresh your wood chips, then this is your last chance to do it before spring. 6-10″ deep, go out as far as the drip line of the tree, and keep chips and mulch a few inches away from the trunk.
Do NOT fertilize fruit trees until mid-February.
Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.
In the Shed
Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
Finish oiling up any tools that got missed.
Refinish and moisturize wooden handles of tools with Danish oil.
Spray out old plastic pots and clean up the corners of the shed.
Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.
In the Chicken Coop
Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.
Around the House & Perennial Beds
Dead head spent perennials (i.e. purple coneflower, laitris, or hibiscus), and either save seed OR scatter / cover them for new plants in the spring.
Plant native perennial wildflowers. If you are in central Florida, look at Green Isle Gardens in Groveland. Or check out the native wildflower seed mixes at Hancock Seed Company.
Apply BioAg probiotic spray the day before a rain (to the soil) in order to inoculate the soil with healthy microbes. This will help prevent a lot of common diseases and pests.
Water house plants sparingly.
Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.
In the Pasture
Plant Rough Pea (Lathyrus hirsutus), which is a high quality protein (especially for beef cows), helps maintain a healthy gut microflora. High quality digestible fiber.
Winter wheat, Burmuda grass
Radish, turnips, or clover
Plant bamboo, Pigeon pea, Napier grass, Mexican Sunflower, Elderberry on pasture edges for chop-and-drop foraging or privacy.
Winter Bird-feeding for the Entire Family
Bird feeding is the perfect kids activity this month! My favorite bird-nerd store is Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU), which is found nationwide. They are not only knowledgeable, but often give free feeders to schools and libraries. Not to mention, the quality of their feed is far superior to box stores. Customize your feeds with different seeds for different birds. Each feed needs a different style feeder, but you can learn more about this by taking your kiddos to WBU.
Nyger and Sunflower Chips: For finches, vireos, and smaller birds
Safflower: Great to keep squirrels away, but cardinals and bluejays love this seed (especially in a hopper feeder)
Shelled Peanuts: For bluejays and woodpeckers
Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds: Everyone loves these! A must have for the feeder. Woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, titmouse, etc.
White Millet: Indigo or painted buntings
Suet: Woodpeckers (ladder back, downy, hairy, red headed, etc.)
Time to Plan
During these winter months while the fruit trees are mainly dormant, it’s the perfect time to plan for the spring. So make a cup of nice winter tea, open up your sketch book, and start brainstorming. But please reach out if we can help you in the process!
If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND digital visits (for those out of our area). CLICK HERE to learn more. We offer a wide variety of consultation types to fit an array of budgets and project sizes.
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The rainy season has begun, especially in Florida, so it’s time to shift from annual vegetable gardening to a focus on the food forest. In essence, put your gardens to “bed” by using a cover crop like annual clover OR sunn hemp to help repair nitrogen and add biomass. Instead, focus now on fruit trees, berry bushes, and nut trees! This is a fantastic time to add some new tropical spinaches and edible hibiscus to your collection too!
In the Garden
Summers in Subtropics: Remember, this is the season that is like winter for most of the country. Our best growing time for traditional garden veggies is essentially wrapping up. Although it “can be done”, it’s likely better to focus on the food forest than the annual vegetables during the hot summer months. Plant your sunn hemp in your annual garden beds and let them grow until August, at which time you can till it under to add nitrogen and biomass to your soil. Then you’ll be ready for September vegetable season again.
Planting: Summer peas, okra, and sweet potato. You can also TRY and plant Seminole pumpkins now, but it’s a risk. It is also still a good time to plant ginger and turmeric – but I would not wait until the end of the month. Get them in the ground as fast as you can.
Harvesting: This month, you can harvest the pumpkins and squash from this winter, green beans, and the last bit of the cucumbers. It’s also prime time for tropical greens! This last week, I was harvesting the Dwarf Everbearing Mulberry and making jams and syrups to can for later. I also tried a new pepper this year from “Seed the Stars” called a Dew Drop Pepper, and had wildly great results with them. Most of those were canned up this week, but they are still yielding like crazy. In fact, I have also used seeds from Seed the Stars for growing Seminole Pumpkins, Everglade Tomatoes, and butterfly pea as well.
Tropical spinaches: Some favorites (especially in Florida) are: longevity spinach, Okinawa spinach, Suriname spinach, and Brazilian spinach. These are high producers all summer long!
Tomatoes: Most of the larger tomatoes are finishing up for the summer in the hot climates, so if you are wondering why they look so sad… that’s totally normal. The best (if not the only) tomato that does well in the summer in warmer climates is the Everglade tomato. It’s a gorgeous little cherry tomato that will fruit most of the summer and is very disease resistant. It’s excellent on salads, canned in salsa, or eaten fresh. As for your other tomatoes… let them go and focus on other things.
Plant Cover Crops: One of the best cover crops in hot climates is called Sunn Hemp. It’s in the legume family (as opposed to the other hemp) and not only repairs nitrogen in the soil, but is also a massive biomass accumulator. If you plant it now, it will be 6-9′ tall before August, at which time it can be chopped and dropped or even buried and composted in place in the garden. For a FREE growing guide on Sunn Hemp, email email@example.com
Managing powdery mildew: In warmer tropical climates, this is the time of year when powdery mildew really starts getting wild. When you see the initial signs, spray immediately with neem spray (buy 100% need on Amazon and then dilute with water and some Basic H to emulsify). Spray in the early morning well before the heat of the day, preferably on an overcast day. Follow up in 2-3 days with a probiotic spray like BioAg by SCD Probiotics. Repeat the following week, if necessary. If this doesn’t help, it’s actually better to remove and burn the plants so it doesn’t spread. Remember, the spores will stay active in your soil, so it’s important to catch it early and remove / burn the spent plants.
Plant nasturtiums around the garden and in the food forest. They are a two-fold insectary plant. First, they will attract the good insect and pollinators, especially the braconid wasps (which defend against the bad guys). Secondly, they are an insect trap for aphids, so if you see your nasturtiums covered…. consider them a sacrificial crop to protect your veggies. In hot climates, they appreciate part shade in summer months and sun in the winter.
In the Greenhouse
We are essentially finished with the “Greenhouse” season, but if you have a shade cloth, you can actually open up all the windows now and put the shade cloth over the top. This will allow you to start micro-greens and other tropical plants (like Vanilla beans and orchids). If using a shade cloth, you can also use the opened greenhouse for your indoor plants to give them a season outside. Just be sure to pay attention to your watering schedule.
Clean and sterilize the plastic pots used this winter / spring. Stack and store them.
Set mouse traps to control critters.
Hang fly trap to control aphids, flies, and other pests.
In the Food Forest
Get a plan: Summer is an ideal time for planting in the food forest, because rainy season will make sure everything is well taken care of for you. Consider getting a private property consultation with us to help you design your yard. We will tell you where to plant, what specific varieties, how to plant them appropriately, and give a guide on how to maintain your food forest. Click here to read about our new property consultation types! We also offer drive thru consultations now, which are ideal for follow-up visits from folks who already have an existing plan in place.
Plant fruit trees and berry bushes: This month, think about planting avocados (there are so many great varieties), mangos, strawberry trees, tropical cherries, guava, and other tropical trees. This will allow them to have 7 months to “root in” and establish themselves before it gets cold. Summer is a perfect time to start that food forest… just make sure you have a plan first.
Compost and wood chips! In places like Florida, the rule of thumb is to fertilize (especially via compost or manure) every March, (early) June, and September. This month, it’s highly encouraged to refresh your wood chips as well, which helps prevent soil sterilization during the hot sunny months. Some species (like Avocado, Citrus, and Mango) can have some compost this month, but organic fertilizers should wait until September when fruit are NOT on the branches. For a FREE planting guide for new fruit trees or how to layer mulch around existing trees, click here.
Important Fertilization Tips: Only fertilize at the beginning of this month using compost, bone meal, kelp, or composted manure (like black kow). Do NOT use chemical or synthetic fertilizers under any circumstances and absolutely STOP fertilizing your yard for the summer. Adding nitrogen heavy and synthetic fertilizers are known to highly increase the risk of toxic algae blooms. So, please do your part and only fertilize this month using whole ingredients, like those listed above. Do NOT fertilize the second half of the month – no exceptions. Though it might be “permissible” for your trees, it has a much more damaging effect on our local ecosystems – so compost ASAP or wait until September.
Ground cherry seedlings (or Cape Cod Gooseberry) can go into the ground now. Plant them around the base of fruit trees to provide shade for the root systems, but allow enough light to get through to produce a harvest. These will often self-seed, so plant in an area where you are ok with them spreading. The taste of these berries is incredible, you will not regret planting them! Not to mention, they are packed with vitamin-C.
Herbs around fruit trees: Woody and smelly herbs are great at two things: keeping pests away (deer and bad bugs) and attracting native bees for pollination. Wait, I lied… three things. They are also a great ground cover under the young fruit trees. Plant yarrow, bronze fennel, dill, oregano, thyme, chives, or garlic chives in clusters around the base of each fruit tree. Let them spread and grow wild.
Harvest elderberry flowers: If you are making elderflower tinctures, teas, or wine – now is your time to harvest! Make the good stuff when flowers are at their peak.
Do NOT prune fruit trees! Never prune during the warmer months… wait until they go dormant. While the plant is sleeping, the sap slows down and the weather is often drier, which helps prevent bacterial and fungal infections.
Enjoy Flowers in bloom
Though this isn’t exactly the best time to plant native perennials, it’s a great time to enjoy the ones you started earlier. If you decide to plant anything this time of year, remember to check their water needs and mulch heavily. Never water until the soil has had the chance to try out for a day. If in doubt, finger check the soil down to your big knuckle.
In the Shed
Now that your tools are up and running, give them a check over before the summer months hit. 1 – Check oil levels. 2 – Check air filters. 3 – Add a bit of Seafoam to the gas to help clean things out a bit. Reoil your metal tools to prevent rust.
Make sure all outdoor tools and equipment are covered when not in use. In places like the South Eastern US, we are entering the rainy season and moisture is hard on equipment. If you cannot store them in a shed, make sure they are covered with a tarp when not in use.
Set mouse traps and keep any animal feed sealed and contained.
Make a tool cleaning bucket: Fill bucket with sharp play sand. Add oil motor oil, cheep cooking oils, etc until the sand is “damp”. Stab shovels, hoes, pitch forks in and out a few times to clean off dirt and give the metal a nice oiling to keep them from rusting after each use. Garden spades and trowels can be kept in the sand bucket when not in use. Obviously, do NOT put pruners or tools with gears in the sand.
In the Chicken Coop & Barn
Chickens: Many folks who bought/hatched spring chickens are now free ranging their birds. They are not laying yet, so do NOT give them calcium. Stay on an organic grower feed until the first eggs arrive. My preference is a high protein feed with lots of seed varieties. Personally, prefer to mix and ferment my own feed. Here’s my recipe.
Quail: It’s starting to get hot, to be sure to keep their water filled at all times. It helps (once a week) to add a tsp of apple cider vinegar to their waterer. It will keep them healthy and active. As you weed the garden, you can also give them an occasional worms and weeds for additional goodness in their diet. Their cooing and songs will be as nice of a reward as the healthy eggs they will produce.
Deworm: Use 1 tablespoon of Basic H in a 5 gallon waterer (1 tsp per gal) for chickens. Add 1.5 cups to a 100gal waterer basin for cattle and horses. Available in bulk (much cheeper for farm use) This should be their only water source for two days.
Disinfect: Use Basic H to clean coops, animal areas, waterers, feeders, etc. This is a great time to power wash the barn, shed, and garage as well.
Around the House
Put out summer bird seed and feeders. This is an excellent way to help with insect control around the garden. For more information on bird seed selections and food forest benefits, watch this IGTV video.
Keep South and West facing shades closed during the day time in order to block out the hot sun.
Open up the windows (on cooler nights) to help air out the house and let in fresh air.
Replace your AC air filters and clean out the vents with a shop vac.
Power wash cement, walkways, sides of house, shutters, wood decks, and outdoor furniture.
Clean outdoor windows and doors (I use Basic H for this).
Apply UV protectant to your recreational vehicles (boats, car interiors, RV’s, decals, etc.)
In the Perennial Flower Beds
Transplanting: Now is NOT the time to transplant, unless you see rain in the forecast for the next week.
Compost! Now is the last chance to compost your perennial wildflowers before fall, so if you want to increase your summer blooms then go ahead and do that now. It’s also a great time to water using an organic fish emulsion / sea kelp blend. Your potted plants will REALLY appreciate this.
Cut back mums: Yeah, go to town. Cut them back quite a bit. Leave only about 1/3 of the plant. You do NOT want this to develop buds yet, so if you see them forming again – give it a hair cut.
Ideas for Kids
Take a food forest tour: Visit places like A Natural Farm, Momma G Farms, Bamboo Leaf Tea, or the Reid Farm. Bring the kids for an amazing hands on experience.
Visit a botanical garden: Some of our favorites include Bok Tower and the Harry P. Leu Gardens.
Make Butterfly Pea Flower tea! Google it… because it’s a magical color changing experience that tastes like Kool Aid. Seeds are available on Etsy from a company called “Seed the Stars”.
Plant a sweet almond bush. This is (by far) one of the best smelling pollinating plants in all of Florida. Though it’s not native here, it’s a butterfly hit and performs very well in our climate. The almond smelling flowers produce year round, and the large bush needs NO winter protection.
Comment below and let us know what YOU are doing this month in your garden.
Be sure to let us know your city / state so we know your growing region. Add any tips that you have learned, additional items that we’ve missed, and any wisdom and experience you can add to the mix. Happy gardening!