New Gardener in South Florida

Hi all.
This may be a stupid question, but when it comes to gardening, I am stupid!!
I live in South Florida and want to grow some produce in my garden (when I make a garden).
I have a couple of questions, concerns.
My sprinkler system feeds of the 'pond' behind my house. Is it safe to water 'food' with water from this pond. Since all the pond is, is an water retention pond that is refreshed with road run off from rain.
Being as the 'soil' here is primarily sand what should I do to get it ready? I intend to start composting and what not, but I am sure I need to do more to start.
Thanks for the guidance, I am sure that I will have more questions but those are my major concerns.
Sincerely, Vince
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

there are no stupid questions. Stupid answers sometimes, and you are NOT stupid. You are not learned yet. You are a newbie, a new gardener as you aptly put into your header. Let's try this now (and you'll get many great suggestions from residents in Florida, whereas I am up in Eastern Tennessee and am a master gardener, obcessed gardener and fairly but not totally knowledgable in horticulture. And I'm still learning and still ask questions.

your veggie garden should be dug and planted where it can get the most sunlight of the day. Things like lettice you can build a simple shade protection using a piece of lattice laid on top of bricko blocks (cinder blocks) which will give them just the right height to allow air circulation, room to grow, and provide shade for the more delicate lettices and such. Tomato's, squash and other veggies need at least 8 hours of sunlight.

well until you said it was a water retention pond that is refreshed from road run off, I would have said fine. But roads have tars, petroleum residue's, gasoline residue's, etc. To use that runoff water would put you at risk watering your edibles with it. Trace metals and chemicals. Better that you put a plastic barrel or rain catcher under your downspouts to capture rain water in it's semi pure form and use that to water your food.
This would be the same concern if you wanted to use treated landscape timbers or fresh railroad ties to raise up the beds. You don't want to use these to do that. Untreated, or something different would be much safer and better in the long run. The benefits of raised beds is quite wonderful. **

** and since it is mostly sand, I'd raise the beds up with bricko blocks, which would provide you a place to sit on the edge to pull weeds and thin plants.
Start watching for bags of grass clippings, leaves (I'm sure leaves fall in Florida, but there are more experts here in the newsgroup that can help you more on that subject). Purchase broken bags at Lowes of manures, top soil, peat moss, etc. ANY of those bags of soils and such can easily be incorporated into your sandy soils. I'd stear clear of the soils with moisture granuals. The leaves and grass clippings will break down over time, and add bulk to your garden beds.
Your compost pile should be placed in a convenient spot, where you can "harvest" the finished compost. No meat, no bones,no dairy, but everything else layered like a lasagna. Grass clippings, dry leaves, kitchen waste like peelings, coffee grounds (with the filters), tea bags, egg shells, smashed up sea food shells, fish heads buried deeply enough to deter scavengers. A walk on the beach if you're close would provide you with seaweed you can add to the compost pile. No carnivore poop. Herbivore poop. If there is a local zoo or a circus in town, see if you can snag some elephant poop, or other critter's they have in the show. (no meat eaters, of course). Stables with horses would be another source for great manure, but horse manure doesn't heat up like cow. Chicken is quite hot, but layered right would be fine. Cleaned out water from a friend's aquarium would be wonderful stuff to water the plants with.
Ordering some red worms from Gardens Alive!@ would be great to throw into the compost pile so they could do a lot of the work for you.

if you do decide to make raised beds, it's easy. Double dig. dig one trench putting the soil on the left side, working your way towards the right. The next row would fill the first, and so on until you reach the width you want. The last trench would be filled with the first pile of stuff. Then you incorporate the extras.
No bed should be wider than four feet because of the reaching abilities of your body. They can be as long as you want, just not wider than four foot. If you didn't raise the beds, you could sit or stand and comfortably work from front side of back without painful aches from reaching too far.

the extension agents are there for not only farmers but home owners and gardeners. It's their job and what they get paid for. And they will even come out to your house if you ask and set up a time to give you a hands on solutions.
good luck and keep us informed as to how it goes! madgardener gardening up on the ridge (where I have RED CLAY SOIL filled with glacial rocks of all sizes) back in Fairy Holler, overlooking English Mountain (which sits on the north side of the Smokies) in Eastern Tennessee zone 7, Sunset zone 36

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
madgardener wrote:

Actually, the pond water should be fine, provided you do two things: 1) Make sure your pump's intake is well below the water surface. Oil, gas, etc. will form a thin layer on the water surface, so having your intake sufficiently below the surface avoids these nasties. 2) Do NOT position the intake so close to the substrate that you take up mud. Most (i.e. almost all) the heavy metals from road runoff adsorb to soil particles. Avoid sucking up the silt at the bottom of the pond and you will successfully avoid adding heavy metals to your garden. .... Furthermore, using the pond water will also add small crustaceans and algae to your garden (the crustaceans, by which I mean zooplankton, will die when removed from the pond).. The post to which I am replying suggested that aquarium water and algae are both beneficial to gardens, so why not take both from a large outdoor "aquarium"?
Of greater concern in Florida is salt. In the North, salt in runoff is a problem because it is laid down on roads to control ice during the winter. In coastal areas (all of FL), the sand may contain enough salt to make the pond water too salty for your garden. This is a question for your local extension agent or a friend with a saltwater aquarium - get him/her to test the salinity of the pond water for you.
The raincatcher/barrels idea is OK except for one major problem in FL - West Nile Virus. If you have a cistern of any type, make sure it has a good lid that mosquitoes can not easily penetrate.
Hope this helps,
Norm
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
good points. and a simple solution for West Nile in the water is to drop a mosquito dunker into the water which will release harmless to us Bt but deadly to the mosquito's and they won't be able to reproduce. I used mosquito dunkers until we put large goldfish into our BBQ fountain's holding trench. They eat all the larvae now, but before I put them in there, I'd use a floating dunker that came nine to the package I got from Lowes. Great investment! And Bt is harmless to us, pets and beneficial insects. madgardener

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
some considerations: how much traffic on the road? I certainly would use run off from my street, it is a dead end street with virtually no traffic. I doubt that the road itself is a source of too much pollution. second, you should consider something other than sprinklers. Florida climate + wet leaves = lots of dead or dying veggies. If you can, go the drip route, place soaker hoses under mulch or place the hose on the ground. But never ever wet leaves.
sandy soil needs major amounts of organic matter. It is nutrient poor, tends to be acid, and does not hold water. We are talking one foot of matter, and you would be better off calling a tree service and ask them if they can dump a truck of wood chips in your driveway (they will do it for free). Make your beds and fill them with the matter. It will take a while for the stuff to make good soil (two years), and you will have to add lime and nitrogen fertilizer often, but you can start gardening soon as there are veggies that don't mind the acidity . Potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, and squash for example. The beds will be self-mulched for a while, which is good (saves water, cuts down on diseases). Learn to plant through the mulch, it is a bit more work early but saves you time and pain later.
finally, make sure you grow greens in the winter and semitropical plants in the summer.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Others have already pointed out the hazards of using run-off water from the road, so I won't repeat that.
Sandy soil: I had the same situation many years ago, in a house 2 blocks from the (salt)water in Long Island. Great drainage because of the sand, but barely organic. The landlord who owned the rental had installed flowers over the years, and added bags of topsoil, so it wasn't pure sand, but pretty close. We added lots of peat moss, topped with leaves which we ground up with the lawnmower. In the relatively mild climate (zone 6), the leaves broke down nicely over the winter.
In a pinch, people have used peat moss to stop wounds from bleeding. It acts like a sponge, drawing moisture away. So, if you want to use it in your garden, it's imperative that you do it this way:
1) Open the flat side of the bag like the way single-serve cereal boxes used to be perforated. Fold back the flaps and dig out an amount of peat moss the size of maybe 10 1-gallon milk jugs. This makes room for you to pour in water. Set aside the peat moss you've removed, and moisten it later. Pour in enough water to fill the hole you've made, and wait a day or two until the remaining stuff has absorbed it. Remove it in chunks and rub it over some metal hardware cloth (screen with 1/4" holes - home centers sell it, and it's cheap. You'll find other uses for it in the garden). The goal is to break the chunks into more of a powder. Add that to the soil, and dig it in. Left on the surface, it'll dry and blow away. If you're not using all the peat moss right away, enclose the bail in a couple of big lawn & leaf bags to keep it moist.
2) Peat moss will make your soil acidic, maybe too much for some plants. Get yourself a soil test kit and check it. You might need to sprinkle some lime around to counteract the acidity. The kit will be needed over the years because the pH is not a static thing - it'll change gradually. Unless it's way off, it's nothing to obsess about, but since it's so easy to fix, you may as well attend to it.
3) Find organic matter in addition to the peat moss. Are you near beaches? Seaweed's good stuff, as are fallen leaves. Grass clippings can be sprinkled on the rows, but watch two things: First, do NOT use clippings from lawns that have been chemically treated. Second, don't let fresh, green clippings come into contact with tiny seedlings. Keep it 3-4" away. Apply thin layers of clippings. When it browns, add more. Besides adding some nutrients, it helps keep dirt from being splattered onto the plants during heavy rains.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.