South Florida Gardening

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:

  • Black-seeded Simpson lettuce – very delicate, our early fall choice as it tolerates the lingering summer heat well
  • Arugula – always the first crop to come up, very hardy. Needs to be used early on unless you like bitter (which some do)!
  • Cress – sharp and peppery tasting, used sparsely in salads for a kick. Also best when used early on. One of our members makes soup when plants grow more bitter over time.
  • Mizuna – a wonderful leafy green that is actually a member of the mustard family – but don’t worry, because you wouldn’t know it! It has a licorice-y taste and the crop lasts well for a few months. It’s become a favorite for many of us.
  • Mesclun mixture – We just put these seeds in near the end of October (and they’ve come up beautifully!) as they don’t sprout in the warmer weather. We love a dense crop of these different colored and textured lettuces, so great for salads.

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.

Our garden members really enjoy picking fresh lettuces right out of the garden to take home for a salad (they might add a radish or two when they’re ready). Harvesting the loose-leaf lettuces is done by clipping the greens with scissors an inch or so above the roots, which allows regrowth that can also be harvested. About every six weeks, we dedicate space in a new bed to another set of these lettuce plantings.  Luckily, they require less sunlight than many other types of crops we grow, so we are able to use more shaded areas of the garden for our lettuces.

A word about seeds:

  • We buy our arugula, cress and mesclun mix seeds from Seeds from Italy. They provide a prolific amount of seeds, very reasonable and very high in germination rate. A true bargain! The packets can last us more than a year.
  • We buy a one-ounce packet of mizuna seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds so we’ll have at least a year’s supply.

Please see our post “Ordering Fall Seeds” for more info/tips on seed buying.

Well, it’s time to make a salad! Look for info in the future on our heading lettuces – though they do take a back seat to these wonderful and easy-to-grow loose-leaf “lettuces” described here.

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