Although Florida’s seasons seem on the surface to be uncooperative, in comparison to other climates around the country, Florida is fortunate to have plenty of sunshine and mild winters, so harvesting your very own garden right here in the heart of your favorite sun-kissed state is as easy as picking your plant and watching it grow (well it’s almost that easy…).
It’s no secret that Florida’s soil and overall disposition might not be ideal for growing some fruits and veggies, but there are plenty that flourish here, and it’s doubtful that us Floridians will be running out of fresh food anytime soon. It’s all about picking the right plant, knowing a little about soil and having the patience to wait for your bounty. So get ready to indulge in some good ol’ vitamin D, because we’re about to go digging!
Tomatoes, carrots or zucchini? Oh my!
Although it’s tempting to march into the garden shop and buy every seed with colorful veggies painted on the packet, there are some things to consider. The popular expression goes “the more the merrier;” however, in the world of gardening, the maxim “less is more” is far better suited. When planning a garden, start by thinking about what type of vegetables your family eats on a regular basis. This will help you decipher what you really want to sprout in your backyard. Growing your own fruits and veggies is a lot of work; no need to plant something that you won’t actually eat when it’s time to harvest.
From seeds to sprouts to leaves to plants… these vegetables will come to life in no time, spotting your garden with a kaleidoscope of delectable sun-warmed vegetables. After you’ve determined what you’re family wants to grow, the question now standing is, “Where should I plant my garden?”
Most seeds that will grow in Central Florida have one thing in common—they love the sun! Digging your garden so the sun can admire it is key. Take time before you start sowing seeds to watch the sun move across your yard. It would be a shame to dig a bed, only to find it in full shade by early afternoon. It’s also important to know how much sun the plant you intend to grow needs before planting it. Too much sun and the plant could be burnt to a crisp; too little sun and it may fail to sprout at all. As a good rule of thumb, most veggies thrive with six or so hours of direct sunlight every day. (See the chart later in the feature for helpful information on the needs and planting schedules of specific types of plants.)
Once you know where you will plant your garden, it’s time to grab a shovel. As with any kind of garden, a vegetable or fruit garden is usually successful if the seeds are thriving down under, so the soil it a huge consideration when getting started. Most vegetables do best in moist, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter, such as compost or peat moss.
You can even prepare the soil before you start planting. Removing the top layer of soil will enable the plants to breathe by taking out the rocks, weeds and debris that may be packed up close to the surface. After doing this, you can cultivate the soil by turning it with a shovel, removing any additional rocks as you go. Fertilizer can then be raked into the soil as it is tilled and worked in 6 inches deep.
Keeping Bugs (And Critters) At Bay
First things first, some bugs are actually beneficial for your garden. Before you haphazardly throw pesticides at your garden visitors, make sure they’re not actually performing a service, rather than a disservice, for your garden. (You can locate plenty of info on beneficial bugs at ifas.ufl.edu.) Once you’ve determined the pests must go, it’s time to proceed. If chemical pesticides aren’t your cup of tea, there’s several natural, proven strategies for eliminating garden bugs. Read on to find out more.
l One great way to rid your garden of unwanted bugs is to bring in and attract more bugs. Yes, you read that right. Aphids, the bugs usually responsible for eating tiny holes in your garden leaves, are the natural prey of ladybugs, wasps and lacewings—all beneficial bugs! You may want to do an Internet search for ways to attract bugs that can wipe out your pest problem.
lTrouble makers like caterpillars and slugs make their way to your garden from below. Create a dangerous, sharp, less-than-inviting environment for them by sprinkling crushed eggshells beneath your plants.
There are plenty of substances (think salt, beer, flour, etc.) that are safe for humans but toxic for pests. Sprinkling them in your garden may just send the pests a packin’.
Although herbs and flowering plants usually smell great to us, that’s often not the case with bugs, snails and the like. Mint, basil, lemongrass, citronella, fennel and catnip are all natural repellents when it comes to making pests say pee-yew! Try planting some of the herbs along the perimeter or even in between your crops.
To keep four-legged creatures away, like squirrels, rabbits, even deer, a small chicken wire fence surrounding your garden may be your best bet. If that’s not in the budget, check out organicgardening.com for a great selection of affordable ideas.
After the soil is cultivated, the seeds are sowed, the ground is watered and the sun is shining down, all that’s left to do is wait. Before you know it, fresh, green, leafy sprouts will start peeking out from the ground ready to emerge in full color. Soon enough, those vegetables that look good enough to eat will be good enough to eat.
When harvest time arrives, it’s important to pick vegetables as soon as they ripen, as this often encourages the plant to produce more. Taking a basket outside and filling it with ripe vegetables frequently is a good way to keep track of what’s ready and what needs a little more time. Raw, cooked or steamed, once the veggies are on your plate, you’ll be eager day after day to fill the basket once more.
Crisp and fragrant produce will be both the proof of your hard work, as well as the reward. As you bite into your first bunch of homegrown snacks, no doubt about it, you’ll be heading out the door, seeds in hand—because it’s about to begin again!
In addition to what you would like to grow, being conscious of what will grow —and what that plant needs in order to thrive—is yet another obstacle most newbie gardeners encounter. Just think, it’s highly doubtful that we will catch a glimpse of an apple tree growing in a garden here in Central Florida anytime soon. Veggies can be grown year-round here in Central Florida, it’s just a matter of knowing what can grow and when. So what will grow? Read on to find out more.