Some Ideas on Gardening in Southern Florida

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Some Ideas on Gardening in Southern Florida

January 20, 2018 Did You Know? 0

The winter issue of the Miami-Dade Extension Connection, a newsletter published by the county’s extension office (IFAS), contains an informative article titled “Easy Ways to Grow Vegetables.” Since mid-winter is a great time to cultivate a home vegetable garden, Richard Lyons’ Nursery would like to direct your attention to setting up the garden for maximum satisfaction. It’s essential to understand that the ‘easy’ part of the process really refers to the relatively carefree approach a grower can take with many vegetable species after preparing the planting site. But getting the planting space ready for the season requires some exertion.

For growers with limited room in which to do their gardening, the most important advice offered in the IFAS article is not to plant and cultivate vegetables in rows, because that method “wastes space and provides more opportunities for weeds.” The article mentions square foot gardening (SFG) and the French intensive method (FIM) as alternatives to row planting. They are not identical, but what they have in common is that they conserve space and can increase the crop yield. In square foot gardening, a technique that’s been around since the early 1980s, the plot is divided into squares, either literally 12 in. by 12 in., or somewhat smaller or larger. Each square can be used for a different vegetable species, and, depending on mature size, a given square will contain one or more plants. The method has been refined in the last 12 years. Now the recommendation is to plant on raised beds that substitute a blend of compost, peat moss and vermiculite for topsoil, an approach that short-circuits the time-consuming need to improve the soil.

The much older French intensive method of gardening involves improving the soil itself instead of overlaying it with a blended potting medium, and accordingly is more labor-intensive and time consuming. The process requires double-digging: Ideally, the topsoil is augmented with manure or other nutrient source, then dug out to create a trench 12 in. deep. The excavated topsoil is kept nearby for later use. The trench is then turned 12 in. deeper by shovel or fork. The gardener repeats the process adjacent to the first trench. The topsoil/nutrient mix excavated from the second trench is used to fill the first. The final trench is filled by the topsoil conserved from the first trench. Because the topsoil and the underlying soil have been broken up in the digging process, the trenched planting beds will tend to be higher than the surrounding untreated ground. The double-digging can be repeated from time to time over a period of years, so that the soil being farmed is slowly improved.

But the French intensive method, in its strictest definition, is hard to implement in southern Florida. In those parts of the region underlain by limestone, it is daunting, if not impossible, for a home gardener to hand-excavate a trench 24 in. deep. And where the soil is sandy instead of rocky, the sparse natural organic matter exposed by digging can quickly dissipate from heat and wind action.

Accordingly, what the IFAS article recommends most closely matches square foot gardening. It calls for creating a raised bed on a site that receives at least seven hours of full sun daily and then installing a compost-potting soil blend. The topsoil is not used in the composition of the bed and thus doesn’t need to go through the lengthy improvement regime. The raised-bed technique enhances drainage, and the proximity of the plants to one another tends to discourage the growth of weeds.

After the labor of creating the planting site is completed, home gardening can be fairly uncomplicated. IFAS describes the following dozen crops as easy to grow: Beans (bush or pole), broccoli, carrots, collards, kale, leaf lettuce, onions (green), peppers (sweet or hot), spinach, sweet potato/boniato, and tomatoes. Richard Lyons’ Nursery would like to supplement that list with the following recommendations: Beets, cabbage, celery, eggplant, herbs (oregano, parsley, thyme), kohlrabi, leeks, peas, radishes (including Daikon), Swiss chard, and tomatillos.

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Good gardening!