January and early February mark the middle of our growing season here in South Florida. It is a time for assessment and planning as to what we want to grow into the Spring. Many of the crops we grow can be planted throughout the entire season. Others (such as cabbages and heirloom tomatoes) have a shorter window, i.e. the time for planting them is running out, especially if starting them from seed.
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.
A vegetable garden is not complete without flowers planted in it – scattered around in various beds among the many types of vegetables we’re growing. While flowers certainly add beauty to the garden (who doesn’t love them?!), their main purpose is to attract beneficial insects to the environment. These insects act as predators to non-beneficial insects and as pollinators for vegetable production. Flowering plants provide a place for insects to lay eggs, caterpillars to thrive, and adult insects to feed. Insects are such a vital part of the growing cycle, and help to protect the health of plants, that we take them for granted, or sometimes may even wish we didn’t have them (unless they’re pretty)! As an aside, here is an interesting “factoid” for you: What percentage of insects are harmful? You won’t believe, me; feel free to look it up – One percent. Yes: 1, uno. Look it up.
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.
For favorite recipes using fresh green beans from our garden, please see our posts Green Beans with Mustard-Tarragon Dressing – Simple & Delicious and A Fresh Take on Three Bean Salad
There are many advantages/benefits to growing green beans in South Florida:
So here are some notes on our current varieties of seedlings:
When we start our tomatoes depends on the type: the larger varieties we start very early in the fall, the cherry tomatoes we start later, as the latter grow longer into the spring/summer season. The one large tomato we wait until winter to start is the “Momotaro” – a wonderful Asian variety introduced to us by a friend a few years ago, that is very tasty. It is so exclusive that we got exactly (yes, I counted!) 12 seeds in a packet. Right now, we’ve got lots of cherry seedlings growing strong, including the ever-so-popular Everglades tomato, hailed by our gardeners as “tasting like candy.”
Brassicas (cabbage family):
It is time for a second cycle of these plantings – this includes our regular and Chinese cabbages, kohlrabi, different varieties of kale, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, etc. For some, such as our regular cabbages, this is near the end of when we will be starting and transplanting seedlings for harvesting this season – as they are slow growing and need the cooler weather to thrive. Others, such as kale and kohlrabi, and even Chinese cabbage, we can plant them again a month or so later with a high probability of success.
This is prime time for the lettuces that we start in flats, i.e. heading lettuces. Right now we have some beautiful Bibb and Romaine seedlings, and it is very likely that we will transplant these directly into our garden beds rather than taking them through the intermediate step of four inch pots. Why? Because that seems to work well for us.
This is also prime time for many other types of vegetables we wish to have ready to eat in the Spring. Leeks, celery, peppers, escarole, chard, sorrel, fennel, nasturtiums, and more – these can all be started again now to produce another harvest later on (not to mention other crops that we directly seed in the beds, such as beans, carrots, peas, radishes, etc.). Many of them are already sprouting or growing in flats or pots; others will be started from seed very soon. Starting and transplanting seedlings becomes a main part of our gardening work at this time of year. We feel very fortunate to have two (or more) rotations of many of our most loved crops during our major (fall-winter-spring) growing season here in South Florida.
Continuing on from our first post, Yess!! Fall Planting – Getting Started! here is a breakdown of where we are at this point with planting:
Grown and being harvested: (of course, more of each will be planted)
Planted and growing well:
We basically have three methods for starting our plants in the garden:
We definitely prefer to start our plants from seed, for a number of reasons. First, when you purchase seeds as opposed to starter plants, there’s a much greater variety to choose from. We also like cultivating them from their very beginnings in our own organic soil and supplements. And it’s much less expensive than buying plants. There is also the chance of introducing pests and/or diseases that are brought in on starter plants. Last but not least, who doesn’t love the hands-on experience and good feeling of engaging in a plant’s growth every step of the way?
The needs of plants vary, and some do better with one of the methods above over the others. For example, tomatoes need to be started in flats; beans need to be direct seeded into beds; and for most of our herbs we buy the starter plants.
For an idea about what particular plants we start in flats vs. direct seeding into beds, see our post Yesss!! Fall Planting, Part I. About half or more of our seedlings are started in flats, so here is some info and tips for using this method:
Planting seeds in flats for transplanting later
Our soil mixture is so vital to the success of the seedling. We have tried many different combinations, following advice of experts over the years, and based upon our experience, this is what we now use. Thoroughly mixed together:
Fall is our “spring” when it comes to planting here in South Florida. Our growing season starts in the fall and runs through the spring, which is the opposite of most regions in the U.S. For the first few years that we had this garden, we had wonderfully rich organic soil that we were able to obtain at a steep discount. To “prepare the soil” meant opening the bags and dumping them in the beds, and voila! – our plants would thrive! But when we lost our source, we had to learn how to create the best soil environment for our plantings on our own. It has been a process – one that we improve upon each year, and continue to learn from.
There are many steps we take to prepare the soil for planting our new crops each year.
I. Before the fall season: