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!
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.
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
Our fall and winter crops here in South Florida are basically the same. Most of the things that we start in the earlier part of the growing season (fall), we can start another rotation of in December or January. Much of our work is planning what seeds need to be started when. We will either direct seed some of our crops, such as carrots and beans directly into the beds. Or, with many other crops, we will be getting them going in flats, and then transplanting seedlings as they mature into four inch pots and/or directly into the beds, and then watching them grow! For a list of what we can grow in the fall/winter here, please see our post http://www.soflagardening.com/fall-planting-beds/
Our fall gardening is going strong here in South Florida as we head into December. Though we had a late start this year due to weather events, we are well on our way to filling up our beds with organic veggies that can be grown now and into the spring. “Winter” is not worth mentioning because we don’t really have one here. We consider the winter solstice (December 21-22) as the transition time for us from fall to early spring when it comes to gardening.
We’ve described how we prepare the soil in our beds for planting – now it’s time to discuss how we get our plants started. Because we are in South Florida, our prime time for cultivating seedlings is in the fall.
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?
Not exactly an exciting or pretty picture right? But it’s just perfect, because this is how much of our garden looks as we prepare the soil for the coming season. It is a serious endeavor, as we have learned from experience that a successful garden is more dependent than anything upon having really good soil. Not only does it support the growth of our plants, but determines their nutritional value as well. And, good soil is a pest deterrent, because poor soil produces weak plants that are more vulnerable to pests and actually attract them. Also, the beneficial microbes in good soil help to prevent plant disease.
So it is finally time to get some fall planting started – well, sort of. We are still experiencing weather conditions here in South Florida that are not conducive to our typical October plantings. Patience has been the keynote so far this season – we thought the late September (into October) rains would be over last week and we could start planting in the beds, as well as more seedlings in flats, but lo and behold it’s still raining! We did go ahead and put a few things in beds and for the most part they are doing fine. The seeds in flats are not faring as well as it’s just too wet for them. We’re hoping this coming week is the last of the rainy season before we’ll have not only mostly sunny days, but a little bit of cooling off as well. It’s been a wild ride with the weather this past two months, and we’re hopeful for some “normalcy” settling in soon.
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!