July is an interesting time in a South Florida vegetable garden. In the past we have grown a variety of edible tropical summer plants in the heat here, but not so much anymore. There’s been so little interest in harvesting them or it just doesn’t pay to battle the influx of insects that plants draw at this time of year. So – no luffa, no black-eyed peas, no bitter melon, no tropical spinaches that nobody wants to use… This season’s summer crops are limited to okra, eggplant and long beans, along with an ongoing harvest of sweet potatoes – all of which our gardeners enjoy. (If you’re an okra lover, check out our recipe page here for three different dishes). And if you want to know what some of those summer crops are that we don’t grow, here is one of many articles which you can access online: “Growing Vegetables in South Florida”. Be sure to indicate “South Florida” in any searches you do since our growing season is quite unique compared to most of the US.
We sometimes dub a growing season, especially when its harvest is peaking, as “The Year of…” – depending on what did really well that year. I remember quite vividly our Year of the Nasturtium as our garden was blanketed with their flowers in a variety of colors and the bees were quite happy to visit! Other crops in contention for the title have been kale, fennel, cabbages, green beans, and sweet potatoes – all bringing a particularly abundant and joyful harvest in a given year. Here are some key points that got the tomato this past season’s (20-21) royal title:
Every year we post about the excitement of fall planting time, and this year is no exception. With the temperature beginning to drop a bit now, we do tend to get over-enthusiastic, we can’t help it. Not just because we’ve had enough of the heat, but also because we can start putting some of our favored crops in the ground without killing them.
As another regular growing season (ie, fall-winter-spring) is winding down, we are beginning our fall bed prep. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some lingering harvests to enjoy – chard, onions, kale, collards, cucumbers and carrots, bok choy, celery & celeriac, French sorrel, and a nice variety of herbs. (We get less sun than a typical South Florida vegetable garden, which extends our harvest in the late Spring.) We will also be enjoying a few heat tolerant crops throughout the summer – hot peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, bok choy (“joy choi” in the summer) and okra. We do not plant a large variety in the summer as we have found over the years that a)crop usage is minimal for the effort they take to grow and b)keeping up with the insects on new plantings in our summer climate is nearly impossible. It is so darn hot to be battling insects out there. And we don’t want to cultivate nonbeneficial pests waiting in the soil for our fall crops either!
August and September – hereafter referred to as summer months – are sooo hot in South Florida, and in our garden there is very little growing to harvest and cook (besides some okra and a few herbs). The remainder of the spring vegetables have finally given their last breath (would you believe we harvested a few leeks and some chard in August?!); the sunflowers are wilted and gone; the herbs are either bid farewell to or hanging tough through the summer heat depending on their durability. We said goodbye to the sorrel, basil and tomatillo plants recently, sad to say, they just gave out.
Several months ago I was exposed to the technique of square foot gardening, when an older edition of this book was loaned to me. Well, this approach seemed just plain weird – why bother planting everything all packed into little squares, what’s the point? And so many different things in one bed, kinda chaotically? And to bother doing the work to divide a bed up all precisely like that? Well, as they say, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it!” Now that we’ve tried it, we’ve fallen in love with it. No, not just a fly-by-night infatuation, this is true love!
Last season I wrote a post explaining how we go about preparing the soil for planting which you can find here. Well…. this is a new season, with “more water under the bridge” – and new knowledge gained through experience, the advice of experts and our own research and reflections. Therefore I want to update last year’s post with what new ways we are preparing “soil” – or better said “growing media” – to start and grow our veggies. Don’t get me wrong – most of what I said last year still stands. Where we’ve significantly changed a practice that I touted back then, I will indicate it here and in that post as well.
It’s early November here in South Florida, prime time for planting our organic garden for the new season. We have just gotten a real break in the weather, with some cooler mornings last week (not quite cool enough for us South Floridians to get our boots and scarves out, though it’s tempting, right?) This cooling does make us enthused about being outside and getting our garden going! So, to give a rundown on how we’ve started with either seedlings or direct plantings, here goes:
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:
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!
We tried growing a few fancy types one season (such as “star of David” which is very cool looking), but honestly, we just seemed to have settled into a few basic types – the Clemson spineless, and a basic red okra, and this year we’re trying one called “Chant” & will report how it turns out (Update: it’s great, good producer and fine okra). The fruit of the plant grows quickly, so it must be picked daily or you will get overgrown, tough pieces. The most serious farmers will even pick twice daily to get the perfect size!
Okra absolutely loves South Florida in the summer! And it has very few issues. This year we are getting some snail action on the plants, but they seem to have abated after applying Sluggo Snail Bait. We typically plant rows by direct seed in late April and into June, and can harvest up through October as they just love the heat. I hope if you’ve been an okra skeptic all your life, you’ll give it a try – non-slimy recipes to follow!
Written by DK; Photo by Tracy Elliott