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.
Continuing on from our first post, Yess!! Fall Planting – Getting Started! here is a breakdown of where we are at this point with planting:
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?
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.
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.
As promised, here is one last summer recipe – roasted okra. That’s about all we’re growing here in our organic garden that we can make a substantial side dish out of at this point in the season. Not to feel hopeless after all our South Florida weather events this past month, we are about ready for some serious fall planting over the next several weeks!
Meanwhile, we will enjoy our long-producing okra, which just loves our lingering summer heat. Having discovered the method of roasting it a few years back, it is a go-to recipe when a fast, fail-safe and delicious way to use it is needed. This is such a no-fuss method; we don’t even bother to trim it up after the stems are removed. That way we can eat it as finger food if we like, just pick it up by the end and bite into this savory treat (and discard the tops). Another nice thing about roasting okra is that it’s much quicker than roasting other veggies; in 12 minutes or so it’s done. Be careful when you take it out of the oven – it’s such a great snack that chances are your family will devour it before your meal is served – no kidding!
Well it’s a strange time of year here in South Florida. While anxious to get started on our fall planting, and after weathering the recent tropical storm winds of Irma, we have one more hurdle to overcome: our very rainy season in September, albeit a little late this year. We had torrential rains last night and expect at least a week straight of rain – not a good formula for getting our seeds in flats or in the ground. One lonely flat of tomato and pepper seeds has been started and we will have to see how it does through all the rain. Meanwhile we will continue with a bit of cleaning up from the storm and prepping our beds for planting, weather permitting.
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!
Collard greens are a nutritious vegetable that can continue to grow into the hot Florida summer. Two advantages that collards have over many other greens is that they are super easy to clean, and there is minimal shrinkage – so you don’t have to pick (or buy) a boatload to get a dish of fresh cooked greens.
Cooking and baking with brown butter is becoming more and more popular – for good reason. Its nutty flavor and the richness it adds to dishes is very unique. As far as collard greens go, brown butter is a delicious, healthy alternative to the long stewing-in-ham-hock-“pot likker”-method (that, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy!). I was surprised to hear my husband strongly request this brown butter recipe when I brought some collards home the other day, I didn’t know it was his favorite way to eat them.