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Starting fresh in Florida

 
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Location: Lakeland, FL
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Hi, all! New to this forum, and to permaculture in general.

I'm looking for advice as I hit the reset button on my small suburban yard in central Florida. My wife and I moved into the place last summer, and the yard had been neglected or a long time prior. There's not much of anything growing here now, including grass. I'd like to have some lawn to sit and lie and play in, but I'd also like to get a decent garden started.

My plan right now is to lightly till up the whole yard, front and back, and lay grass seed (or maybe even some sod) over most of it, leaving room for beds and a garden. I have a lot of fall leaves still lying around, so I was going to till some of those into the beds and garden and reserve the rest to use as mulch.

But I recognize that's all very conventional. I don't want to get six or eight months into this—especially now that I'm reading more about permaculture—and wish I'd done something differently from the start. So do any of you have any words of wisdom for me as I get started, I'd be grateful for it.
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pollinator
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Hi Brian - welcome to permies! I don't have much to offer as far as advice as there are many, many people in this forum with far more wisdom regarding these things, but I wanted to welcome you and say that your yard looks like a wonderfully clean canvas to start with! :-) Your idea of collecting a lot of possible inputs to build compost/soil with is a wonderful start, for sure!
 
Brian Hamilton
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Thank you, Annie! I'm really excited to have discovered this forum.
 
pollinator
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Welcome to permies. Glad to see another Floridian on here. Nice place as well. A couple things I can think of right off the bat. I see you have a downspout, you could start collecting rainwater to save on the water bill if you have one, and to keep chlorine out of your garden if it's in your water. I wouldnt till the soil, you'll end up with a sand box. The little nutrients we have here will quickly offgas and leach away. You would be better off building the soil from the top down. We're in a transitional period from cool weather to warm weather crops right now, so you might want to focus on those right off the bat. Seminole pumpkins, sweet potatos, cowpeas, everglades tomatoes, collard greens, okra, hot peppers, eggplants and many more. But theres still time for many cool weather crops as well if planted soon. Good luck with your new place.
 
author & gardener
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Brian, welcome! I see a lot of potential for your yard! Like Annie said, a clean canvas. You won't have to battle established plants like poison ivy, saw brair, and brambles.

I'd suggest that you start by making a list of what you'd like to see happen. Vegetable garden? Herb garden? Fruit trees? compost pile? chickens? rabbits? Honeybees? Windmill? Solar panels? Outdoor kitchen? Rainwater collection? Small pond? Garden shed? Tool shed? Then get some graph paper and make a variety of sketches to try out where things might go. Brainstorm!  

Make a list of potential things to grow. Dan Allen gave you some good suggestions for vegetables, and I agree with him about not tilling. You can find a lot of good ideas for soil building in the soil forum. Keep an eye on wind and sun patterns to figure out where things might be happiest.

Even with a plan you will likely make changes along the way. My husband and I have. Sometimes things don't work out as we hoped, or sometimes we find new ideas. But at least there's a foundational plan to work off of.

 
Brian Hamilton
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Thanks, Dan and Leigh! Really helpful suggestions. I'll get to work sketching out the long-term vision, and I'll definitely make good on the rain barrel idea.

I'm intrigued (and pleased) to hear that I don't need to till. Your explanations makes sense. Two follow-up questions, though:

(1) Early last summer, before we moved in, someone had come through and scattered rye seed all over the yard. Very little of it took, as you can see. I've been guessing that one big part of the reason for that is that the soil is pretty compacted up next to the house, and I thought tilling would loosen it up. Is it enough just to drag a garden rake over it, do you think?

(2) Is there anything special I need to do to prep the yard for sod, if I want to lay sod down? Again, I was thinking that tilling would open the soil up to accept the roots a little better.

Grateful for your help!
 
pollinator
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Location: Treasure Coast, Fl
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Welcome to another Floridian! If i could go back and do it all over again, i would contact a tree trimming service or ChipDrop and start spreading chips all over my yard. What I did do as soon as i moved in was start my compost piles and started collecting rain water. Study your yard and determine how the sun travels. Best of luck!
 
Leigh Tate
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Brian, did they scatter the seed and leave it uncovered on the ground? I get the poorest results that way. My best results (for pasture forage) is to broadcast the seed and cover with old barn bedding. For your situation, I'd recommend finding several bales of good quality hay to lay down on these areas. Hay is an excellent soil builder as it decomposes.

Your soil is the foundation of your property and everything that grows there, so you need to understand how it works and how to build it. For that, here's a book I can't praise highly enough - Jon Stika's The Soil Owner's Manual. That link will take you to its Permies page. The book will give you the basics of soil health and building excellent soil, with tips on applying those principles to different applications, such as a yard and garden.
 
Dan Allen
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The soil is really just sand, unless your in north Florida or extreme south Florida, we have acidic sugar sand. Ryegrass in florida is grown as a winter grass, it goes dormant or dies back in the summer, so if it was seeded in the summer it would have failed to establish regardless of the soil. You would be fine laying sod down right on top of what's there. If you do put down hay, I recommend organic, because 24d is a persistent herbicide that is overused on hay and will ruin broadleaf crops for several years.
 
Dan Allen
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Here is what I'm doing to deal with the poor soil, planting a fruit tree on mounds with compost mixed in, and growing vegetables on the sides of the mounds, and around the edges, until the tree takes over. Also I'm growing pigeon peas and lemon grass adjacent to each mound for a source of mulch and nitrogen. I'm using tillage radishes to increase soil tilth and those grow great just thrown around, no raking or soil prep necessary. Yard long beans and runner beans on the trunks of the trees to prevent sun scald until the canopy develops.
 
Dan Allen
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Brian Hamilton
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Thanks for that book reference, Leigh! That's exactly what I needed. I just bought a copy, and I'm looking forward to reading it. And I appreciate the specific ideas about soil remediation, Dan and Vanessa. Really grateful to have some other Floridians here.

I'm backing off the tiller, reading the Stika book, looking for some good mulch cover free of herbicides, and dreaming up a plan for whole yard. Glad to have a gameplan! Thanks again.
 
Vanessa Alarcon
pollinator
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Location: Treasure Coast, Fl
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Brian Hamilton wrote:Thanks for that book reference, Leigh! That's exactly what I needed. I just bought a copy, and I'm looking forward to reading it. And I appreciate the specific ideas about soil remediation, Dan and Vanessa. Really grateful to have some other Floridians here.

I'm backing off the tiller, reading the Stika book, looking for some good mulch cover free of herbicides, and dreaming up a plan for whole yard. Glad to have a gameplan! Thanks again.



Another thing i would look into is biochar. there's a lot of info on this site about it from a lot more learned people than I, but for what i gather, it is biologically activated crushed charcoal that gives a habitat for microorganisms and retains a lot of moisture (over simplified explanation on my part, do not take my word for it). There are many ways of making your own or buying it ready made and many disagree on the pros and cons. What I did for my beds is buy a couple of bags of lump charcoal, crushed it and activated it with compost tea and urine and added to my planting beds. I believe it works. I also added some clumpping kitty litter as its benzonite clay and my soil is just sand. So there are 2 more leads for you to research on what to add. Chop and drop is great also but the most import thing you can do its compost, compost, compost. Hurricane season is upon us so there'll be plenty of green waste to be found.
 
Brian Hamilton
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Thanks for that reference, Vanessa! I hadn't heard of biochar, and I'm intrigued.

Just wanted to say, Leigh—I read Stika's soil book last night, and it was _fantastic_. I feel like a light bulb is on now. Thanks so much for that reference.
 
Leigh Tate
author & gardener
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Brian Hamilton wrote:I read Stika's soil book last night, and it was _fantastic_. I feel like a light bulb is on now.



Brian, I felt the exact same way.

I'm looking forward to your plans and progress!
 
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