Written by Authentic Florida guest contributor, Falon Mihalic
Florida winter and the dry season are here in the Sunshine State. The next five months offer the best conditions for growing your own edible garden. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Soil. A healthy garden starts with healthy soil. Most Floridians are blessed with sandy soils that drain quickly, but do not contain many nutrients. Your soil will likely need additional organic content to produce the tastiest, most delicious foods. A combination of organic soil and peat moss will suffice. Organic content includes yard waste like pine straw, shredded palm fronds, leaves, and grass clippings. Also, use these materials like a mulch to cover the soil around your edible plants. Over time, the organics break down and release nutrients and help retain moisture in the soil.
2. Sun. We have no shortage of sunlight in Florida, but some yards have more than others. Track the sun in your yard and make note of the areas that receive at least 6 hours of sun each day. A full sun location is the best for growing edible plants.
3. Water. It is better to water your garden heavily two or three times a week than it is to water every single day. Setup a sprinkler or soaker hose on an automatic timer so that you never forget.
4. Raised Bed. A raised planting bed is the easiest way to begin your garden. Mixing soil in a raised bed prevents you from doing the hard, back-breaking labor of tilling existing soil and mixing in soil amendments. Build a bed yourself with pressure-treated lumber from the hardware store, or purchase a kit online.
5. Starter plants. I suggest starting with perennial herbs. They survive on a small amount of water, smell great, and keep growing each year. Either clip some leaves and add to your pasta, or let just let it grow. Easiest culinary herbs are lemongrass, thyme, sage, and oregano. You might also try starting basil and dill from seed and letting them re-seed themselves each year.
6. Greens. Leafy greens like kale and spinach can grow under filtered Florida sun year round or in full sun during cooler months. If you live in north Florida, a rowcover allows you to grow leafy greens even when there’s a nighttime frost. Collard greens are my personal favorite leafy vegetable because of their place in southern cuisine. My grandparents always made black eyed peas with collards for good fortune on January 1st. Start your collards on Thanksgiving weekend and cook them on New Year’s Day. It could be the start of a new tradition for you and your family.
7. Plant a fruit tree. Citrus is a popular choice. Purchase a small one from a reputable grower. Plant it in full sun, in soil that drains well (no need to amend the soil) and follow the recommended grower directions. Water two to three times per week until the tree is established. Other easy edible trees include Loquat, Papaya, and Moringa. North Florida residents need frost-resistant cultivars.
8. Patience. Learning to grow edibles is an ongoing process. Try out a few things and see what works. Did a raccoon steal some tomatoes? Did you forget which seeds you planted where? It’s all part of the process. Start small. Talk with other gardeners in your neighborhood. Learn through trial and error. Before you know it, you will be eating food from your yard everyday.
Questions? My name is Falon Mihalic, of Falon Land Studio and I am happy to provide advice to anyone who asks. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Falon Mihalic is a Florida licensed landscape architect and artist who designs residential gardens throughout the state. She began gardening in Florida as a child with her mom, and still asks her for expert gardening advice.