Fall is a very exciting time for us as we begin our new planting season. Buying seeds is of course one of the most important tasks we undertake, and the process has been refined over the years. We have many beds to fill, many tastes to please, and our South Florida weather and conditions to take into account. No, we cannot grow Brussels sprouts and asparagus here (though I have to confess we’ve tried!). But we can grow so many varied crops that it was hard to know where to begin when we first started gardening. Now it’s become kind of routine – we have our favorite seed companies and we pretty much know what we can and would like to plant.
Compost is one of the main keys to a healthy, thriving organic garden. We used to be able to buy some really incredible ready-made organic soil, but no more. So a few years back, we set out to learn how to create our own, and found how essential it was to produce a steady supply of compost! Our two main resources, where we learned the most, was (my gardening bible!) How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons, and the University of Florida’s Agricultural Extension’s resources, especially this article: Compost Tips for the Home Gardener. We learned that composting isn’t about constantly throwing your scraps into a pile whenever you had some; it is a careful layering technique in a designated area with specific dimensions and scheduled maintenance. We had a lot to learn, but now that we’ve got the hang of it, we enjoy the whole routine (although the saved-up kitchen scraps can be nasty!) and especially using the compost to enrich our vegetable garden – nothing like that rich, dark compost that we know is chock full of nutrients!
Collard greens are a nutritious vegetable that can continue to grow into the hot Florida summer. Two advantages that collards have over many other greens is that they are super easy to clean, and there is minimal shrinkage – so you don’t have to pick (or buy) a boatload to get a dish of fresh cooked greens.
Cooking and baking with brown butter is becoming more and more popular – for good reason. Its nutty flavor and the richness it adds to dishes is very unique. As far as collard greens go, brown butter is a delicious, healthy alternative to the long stewing-in-ham-hock-“pot likker”-method (that, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy!). I was surprised to hear my husband strongly request this brown butter recipe when I brought some collards home the other day, I didn’t know it was his favorite way to eat them.
Well one of the die-hard vegetables that can make it through our long hot summer months here in South Florida is collard greens. While they take a back seat to all our other greens during the regular season, now that they are the only cruciferous left to harvest, they’ve become popular. We are lucky to have a green like this in the middle of August!
Collards are an extremely hardy crop – they are very popular in the South as they grow so easily and throughout the year. We just grow a basic type (e.g. Georgia or Carolina variety) in our garden, starting them from seed in flats and transplanting the seedlings when big enough. A few years ago, a fellow organic gardener gave me some pelleted seeds for “blue collards,” which have become one of our favorites. They really do have a bluish tinge to the usually dark green leaves.
In South Florida our “off-season” is June thru September as the summer months are too hot and humid for most plants to thrive. So for us, this is mainly soil preparation time! After completing the harvesting of our Spring plantings, we allow the soil to rest for a few weeks and then begin planting our cover crops. Of course, we research and plan ahead during the Spring so we have our seeds ready.
Cover crops are any of a wide variety of plants which are planted in the off-season in order to enrich the soil for the coming new growing season. There are many functions that cover crops perform:
Summertime in Miami, if you’re an avid gardener, means dusting off the variety of okra recipes collected over the years and making some choices. This okra stew recipe has always been my go-to favorite, my “okra comfort food,” if you will. It is simple to make, delicious, and slime-free.
While gardeners have great success growing okra here in South Florida, it does yield a slow-giving harvest. In other words, we pick a few pieces each day and save it up until there’s enough to cook (they generally keep up to two weeks in the fridge). See my post Oh, Okra! for more harvesting info.
Okra seems to be one of those things that you love or hate, and to my surprise, there are many haters out there – “It’s too sliiimmmyyy” is the usual complaint. Well, I say – “You have to know how to cook it” – ’cause I don’t like slime either, but I do like okra.
I was quite fortunate as a kid to have my grandfather living behind us on his own large piece of property here in South Florida. Papa was a sharecropper for much of his life (in Georgia), and so having a garden was something he just did, naturally, every season, into his 90’s. He loved growing okra, which he called “okry,” and always had quite a substantial crop. My Mom would make an okra stew – which I don’t think I ever ate as a child, but it is one of my favorite ways to eat it now. (See recipe links below). I brought it to a family potluck dinner where my siblings (as adults) told me they were all dreading an okra dish and guess what? They loved it!
It’s always a little sad at the end of our regular (Fall-Winter-Spring) growing season here in South Florida when we have to pull out our withering crops. Of course we do have a few summer crops of unusual veggies to look forward to, as well as engaging in the exciting planning process for the fall!
Cherry tomatoes are a hardier crop than regular and heirloom tomatoes at any time in Miami, requiring a lot less care and giving continuously. We can start cherries from seed from August up until late December and harvest them all the way into June. One of the ironies in our garden is that our Everglades tomatoes, the smallest of the cherries, is the favorite – they’re the sweetest! And we don’t even start them from seed any more – they are all “volunteers” – meaning they sprout up from seeds left in the soil from prior seasons or distributed through our own composted soil.
Our blistering South Florida summer heat is setting in and sadly, our spring crops are wilting. So I needed a way to use some of our kale that had to be harvested before we lose it. Since I love butternut squash soup (who doesn’t??), and know that kale and chorizo combine well, this seemed like a perfect thing to put together.
I didn’t have quite enough squash and wasn’t sure how it would combine with sweet potato; it actually added extra thickness and a depth of flavor, so this combo is a definite keeper (of course you can just use squash). I also used both lacinato (aka dinosaur or black kale) and curly kale as that’s what was on hand and it worked very well. Before I add kale to a recipe, I steam or parboil it first for a few minutes to remove its bitterness – then it has a neutral to sweet flavor.
Long beans love South Florida in the summer! Planted less than two months ago, these nutritious gems are already producing more than we can keep up with. Also known as yardlong beans or asparagus beans, they typically grow 12 to 18 inches long. Harvesting should be done before the beans turn light green and soft.
Long beans are used in Asian recipes – here are a few of our tried and tested favorites:
Asian eggplants come in many shapes and sizes. This one is new to us, it’s called “Thai Ribbed.” It was added (cut in large bite-sized chunks) to the long beans in the first recipe above – delicious!