Tuesday, June 25, 2013

For South Florida Summer Vegetable Gardens

Summer Edibles

By Donna Torrey, owner of The Garden Gate, located at Citi Centre in Pompano Beach

Gardening during the South Florida summer is quite different than anywhere else in the continental US.  Our summer climate is much more like the Caribbean in nature:  hot humid days AND nights, which is the tipping point for some plants, making them unable to sustain themselves.  To survive a South Florida summer, a plant must be able to withstand both the humid days and the hot humid nights, without much temperature variation. 

By drawing our plant palette from the Caribbean and other hot, humid lowland habitats, we can grow an interesting array of material that is both edible and beautiful.  The following are lists of some of those plants which I consider to be especially noteworthy.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, “try everything, keep what works” is a good gardening philosophy in general, but is especially key during the summer months.

PAPAYA- Really a vegetable/herb, and shouldn’t be overlooked in the home garden. It’s easy to grow and produces literally pounds of delicious and nutritious fruit, which can either be eaten green or ripe.  Buy one in the grocery store and plant the seeds.

CALABAZA- You can find this squash in the grocery aisle as well; it’s the bright orange one cut into pieces with the seeds intact; a gift to you, the astute gardener! Plant them now for an amazing, delicious and nutritious harvest this fall.  Give them plenty of room to grow and a good organic fertilizer such as Black Hen.  Other hard shelled squashes can be planted as well, such as pumpkin, Luffa, and others.

BANANAS/PLANTAINS- Again, mostly thought of as a fruit, but is actually an herb. These plants relish the heat and humidity, so don’t neglect to have some of these.  They can multiply quickly, so you will always have plenty to give to friends.  Nothing can compare to the taste of home grown bananas; they are so superior!

PINEAPPLES-  Another freebie from the grocery store.  Buy one, eat the fruit and plant the top.  If you keep doing this, year after year, you will have your very own pineapple grove!  The tops take more than a year to fruit the first time, but less time after that.

BEANS/PEAS- One of the easiest vegetables to grow and loves the summer heat.  Pigeon Peas are a Caribbean staple and that is because they make a sturdy 5 foot bush that produces year round and can last up to 5 years of production.  Plant them during the heat of summer.  Need a quick hedge?  They’re your edible solution.  Pole beans are another good grower; they are delicious and being a vertical crop, save space.  Got a chain link fence? They’re another edible solution. Jicama is another lesser known legume grown for its starchy tuber, which tastes similar to a water chestnut.

AMARANTHUS- This is a South American crop that produces either greens or seeds.  It is one of the few vegetable greens that grow during the summer season.  It’s hearty and delicious, also known as Calalloo.  Other lesser known tropical greens to check out:  Katuk, Moringa,  Okinawa Spinach and Malabar Spinach.

PURSLANE- Known for its beautiful flowers, it is also a delicious green eaten either raw or cooked. One of the few vegetable sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.

OKRA- There are several seed varieties to choose from; all do well during the summer in full sun and an enriched nematode free soil.

SWEET POTATOES- These can be sprouted whole and the growths, called “slips” planted.  They make a great ground cover.

CHAYOTE SQUASH- This squash can be purchased for less than a dollar at the grocery and planted whole.  It will become a beautiful edible vine perfect for a pergola or other large trellised area.

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE (Helianthus tuberosus) - Actually native to North America and used by the American Indians, this Sunflower relative is grown for its tubers which look like knobby potatoes.  It is dug up and planted each year, similar to potatoes.  Its tubers are rich in inulin which doesn’t raise blood sugar. 

HERBS - Some herbs resent the heat of our summers, but many of them actually thrive.  Basil, Rosemary, Oregano, Lemon Grass and Culantro actually prefer the summer weather, and grow prolifically.  Just be sure to keep them moist during dry spells.
For more great information about growing some of the lesser known veggies that do especially well in South Florida, check out the website below from The University of Florida

For more information on The Garden Gate, go to: http://www.donnasgardengate.com/donnasgardengate.com/Roots.html