Several weeks ago I wrote about our bountiful Spring harvest in South Florida – it’s prime time! for vegetable gardeners here. That post described several of the organic crops we grow. Well, here’s some more – this is a continuation, describing more of our mid-Spring harvest, if you will.
I would guess that most South Florida vegetable gardeners grow kale. It has become so popular over the last decade, whether people are putting it in smoothies, making kale chips, massaging it for raw salads or producing a wide range of cooked dishes with it. Kale is incredibly nutritious, is a very hardy and long-lasting crop, and offers so many versatile uses in the kitchen.
I keep talking about “the most exciting time” in our organic garden, from ordering seeds for the new season, to planting our fall crops and seeing those first seedlings sprout up, to the beginning of our harvest – but NOW, it’s just beyond exciting – when our crops are flourishing and there is so much to harvest and cook with that we can barely keep up! So I think I will have to concede – Spring harvest tops them all!
The “fruits” of our labor in the fall-winter months are now ripe and ready, as you will see in our photo gallery and descriptions below. Enjoy!
Green beans are one of our staple crops throughout the fall-winter-spring growing season here in South Florida. We usually (if we’re lucky) have our first harvest at Thanksgiving time, and our last in late April to mid-May, depending on how soon the heat of summer begins to roll in.
There are many advantages/benefits to growing green beans in South Florida:
The preference among our gardeners is pretty much bush beans over pole beans (though we do plant both). There is a variety of purple bush beans that we’ve been enjoying in addition to our typical green ones. But here’s a warning: the purple ones turn a vibrant green color when cooked. I only found this out on Thanksgiving one year. I was so excited as this was our first harvest ever of purple beans, just in time for the holiday! – and I thought I was going to have a beautiful mixed colored dish of fresh green and purple beans. Until, that is, I lifted the lid off the pot of steaming beans. They were a beautiful green color, much to my amazement and disappointment!
For many years I never knew that there was more than one kind of bok choy. Actually it was probably when I started gardening and buying seeds that I learned what an incredible variety of choys there is to choose from.
Choys are so easy to grow organically here in South Florida. I like to joke that it would probably grow on a pile of rocks, that’s how readily it thrives in varying conditions. If we have a spot in the garden that doesn’t seem sunny enough for most plants, or wet enough, or dry enough, or soil-nutritious-enough, sure enough – choy will prevail! And I can’t think of a time – ever – when it has been bothered by any diseases or pests.
Is there anything more gratifying than finding uses for a “small harvest” from the garden to enhance a meal? Well, after a thoroughly enjoyable and productive gardening session, my husband and I stopped by one of our favorite shops on the way home – Proper Sausages is an artisanal store located in Miami Shores, specializing in homemade (off-the-scale!) sausages as well as a range of other meats and goodies (like bacon jam, homemade condiments, incredible sandwiches, etc.). As soon as we laid eyes on the bleu cheese burgers, we knew what dinner would be. Adding a package of those wonderful special buns they have, along with two pounds of the best bacon in town, we were on our way.
It is one of the most exciting times in our South Florida garden when we can start harvesting in the fall! Our first ready-to-eat crops are lettuces and choys, as they grow so quickly after direct seeding into the beds. Now, we use the term “lettuces” very loosely – we mean a variety of leafy delicate greens that can be used in salads.
Our salad-mixture plantings typically include the following:
It’s important for lettuces to have fine, loose and thoroughly weeded soil to grow in. We direct-seed each of the above kinds in its own little section, adjacent to each other in the same bed. For these crops we use the scatter seeding method, putting the seeds in rather densely so we can harvest as described below. Lettuce seeds should not be covered with dirt when they are planted, as they need light in order to germinate. They should be kept well-watered.
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.
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.
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 markedly different from your ordinary bush or pole beans. They are typically used in Asian recipes, and stir-frying seems to be the go-to method for cooking them (they’re not conducive to steaming or boiling). Here are a few of our tried and tested favorite recipes: