Many people have asked us “what’s your secret to growing a Florida vegetable garden?” Well friends, I’m going to share my secret. The very first step to growing your own food in Florida: you have to get your hands a little dirty and actually plant a garden. Growing in Florida does have it’s challenges, however, Florida has one of the most optimal climates for vegetable production in our country. How lucky are we?! If you’re interested in growing your own vegetables and you’ve never tried before here are a few recommendations:
*Start with container style gardening or a raised garden bed. Why? You have control over your soil type, watering, sun/shade, weeds, etc. There are many plant varieties that do very well in container style gardens.
*Select seeds/plants that actually grow/produce in Florida. Our farm is located in USDA Zone 9. We choose our seed varieties based off their performance in our zone. It’s easy to get sucked into buying seeds based off the way the plant/fruit looks; but if the seeds/plants were not meant to grow in your zone, chances are you won’t produce your “eye candy” fruit.
*Select your pots/containers. We love terracotta pots. They create a great balance of moisture and drainage for our plants. (Not to mention, NO PLASTIC) Here are some plantings guides to help you select the appropriate size pots for your home garden:
Minimum soil depths for healthy growth. 4-5″: chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander 6-7″: bush beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme 8-9″: pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary 10-12″: beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass.
*Soil matters! Again, soil matters! Florida is one long sand trap. Most people think vegetable production is impossible in our soil. This simply is not true. Prior to cultivating our first garden plot, we tested our soil. The test results and nutrients/minerals found were ideal for veg production. So why did our plants look yellow and stunted? The answer was simple: sand drains water very quickly and that causes nutrients and minerals to leach out of your top soil after our frequent Florida rain showers (monsoons). This is why we bring in organic matter (compost) and work cover crops/crop outs back into our garden soil. This is also why I suggest container style gardening to green vegetable home growers. With so many soil options on the market, choosing your soil can be overwhelming. My recommendation for soil: keep it simple. We love starting seeds and potting in locally sourced earthworm castings. It has proven time and time again to be the perfect blend or rich organic matter that produces abundant yields. Earthworm castings can be found at most gardening centers and usually cost a fraction of what your “commercial potting soils” cost. Not to mention, it’s pure. (Like everything on the shelf for sale, I always recommend reading product labels.)
*Create your gardening routine. We are so great at creating excuses for ourselves, “I work so much I don’t have time to workout” “my kids are involved in a lot of activities, we don’t have time to prepare our meals at home.” We’re all guilty of making excuses. Gardens do require your time and attention, but if you establish a routine early in the process, it’s easy for your routine to become habit. Unfortunately, only you know your schedule and have the ability to establish your routine. I can offer some garden time guidelines: your veggies need to be watered every other day in cooler months and every day in the warmer months (if we do not receive rain). You can achieve this process by hand watering or install an an expensive timer. You’ll also want to set some time aside for scouting and picking off pests. A few minutes every day and it’s easy to add this task into your watering routine. Once your garden starts producing your family’s food the harvesting begins. Typically you’ll want to harvest every other day to every third day depending on your crops and yields. All in all, your small container style garden should create a huge demand of your time, only about an hour and half a week. Although if you are anything like me, you will find yourself spending much more time enjoying your garden space and all the wonders it’s created.
In closing, I’d like to say growing food isn’t an exact science. Accept the idea YOU WILL FAIL and THAT’S OKAY. Use every failure as an opportunity to learn and continue to grow (pun intended). Start with plants/seeds that are easier to grow. The beginning success helps you evolve into more difficult crops as you become more experienced and confident grower. Growing your food will give you a much deeper appreciation for the meals you place on your dinner table and aid in reducing your overall grocery cost (not to mention the food you grow is more nutritional and tasty than what you would buy in the grocery store).