In the Tampa Bay area, summer brings heat and humidity in such quantities that it renders most traditional vegetable gardening impossible. Come summer (roughly June – August), many Floridians till under what’s left of the garden, add compost and nutrients, then cover their beds to prevent weeds taking over.
I, however, have taken a slightly different approach and enjoy planting southern cooking traditions such as beans (black-eyed, cow peas, and scarlet runners), okra, sweet potatoes, and some cover crops that will enrich the soil (peanuts and clover are examples). We also grow many perennial greens like moringa, okinawa spinach, and cranberry hibiscus that grow year-round.
Whether or not you plant a summer crop, in central Florida we are able to have at least two gardening seasons, with planting starting around September and February, respectively, so summer is a great time to start planning for the fall.
Below are some things to consider as you plan, whether it’s your first or your fiftieth time planting.
- Start by enriching your sandy soil now – add lots of organic matter (healthy plant clippings, compost, seaweed, leaves, manure, etc.) and mix it into the soil. Cover with a layer of mulch or more leaves and let it rest for the summer.
- Map out your garden beds to see which areas get the most sun and which get more shade, then make a planting chart of which plants go where. Lettuce, herbs, and spinach are frequently able to take more shade than most veggies, while plants such as tomatoes and broccoli need to occupy the sunniest areas of the garden.
- Talk to other gardeners in the area to see which vegetable varieties they’ve had luck with to set yourself up for success. There are also a number of books specifically on growing vegetables and fruit in Florida that can be found at your local library or online.
- Be sure you know how you’ll water your garden – you will need to plan ahead to ensure you’re meeting local watering restrictions and conserving water. Set up a rain gauge so you’ll know when you don’t need to water. Drip irrigation or hand watering are the best methods to use for small gardens, and rain barrels can be a great way to capture rain for this use. Remember, reclaimed water cannot be used on vegetable beds.
For more resources on growing your own food check out the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition. Other resources include UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions, your county’s cooperative extension office, local plant nurseries, community gardens, and organic CSA farms in the Tampa Bay area.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands in the dirt this summer, your plants will thank you when the fall planting season begins!