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From Your Backyard to the Dinner Table: Planting Your Own Summer Garden

By Florida Department of Health, Office of Communications

June 26, 2013

Ever wonder why it’s difficult to find your favorite vegetable at certain times of the year? Or why produce prices can seem unusually high? Well, this might be because not all fruits and vegetables grow year-round in Florida. Much of the produce you buy is actually imported, meaning it has been sprayed with radiation or wax to protect it as it travels long distances, which boosts the cost relative to fruits and veggies grown and sold locally.

This summer, enjoy the healthy benefits of planting your own garden! It’s much easier and more beneficial than you might think. Not only is it a great way to get outside and soak up some vitamin D, it provides you and your family with a wider range of food choices that are just as rich in flavor as they are in health benefits.

Good summer crops in Florida must produce and thrive in muggy, humid and extremely warm weather. When considering a summer garden, it is important to research which fruits and vegetables yield the best results. The following list of fruits and vegetables can be grown during the summer in Florida:

  • Lima Beans
  • Bunching onions
  • Cassava
  • Cranberry Hibiscus
  • Hot peppers
  • Spinach
  • Roselle (Florida’s cranberry)
  • Tropical Pumpkin/Squash
  • Winged beans
  • Yam
  • Yard long beans
  • Eggplant
  • Okra
  • Southern Peas (Field Peas, Cow Peas)
  • Peppers
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Watermelon

Before planting, do some research on how long it will take your vegetables or fruit to actually grow. It’s best to create a garden plan that includes the name, location, and planting date of each plant. Make a list of supplies and order or purchase your seeds early.

Most Florida soils benefit from the addition of organic matter, such as animal manure, rotted leaves, compost or commercial soil mixes. If you choose not to include organic matter in your soil, adding fertilizer is your best alternative. The amount of fertilizer you should use depends on the type of plant, as well as the soil, so be sure to consult an expert first. Be careful not to add too much fertilizer, as this can result in excess salt accumulation and may damage your plants. Pests ruin perfectly beautiful gardens every day, especially as summer welcomes insects not normally be seen in the fall and spring seasons. These pests include weeds, mites, worms, nematodes and even animals such as raccoons and birds. Though pests, aptly named, are pesky, remember that pesticides aren’t always a smart solution. They can be harmful to people, pets and the natural environment. Some organisms are actually beneficial to your garden, so think twice before you pick up a potentially hazardous pesticide.

The following are several natural alternatives to pesticides:

  • Manually pick weeds.
  • Monitor each plant carefully twice a week and record observations.
  • Plant flowers in your vegetable garden, as they provide nectar and pollen which attracts beneficial insects.
  • Learn to identify beneficial insects (praying mantis, spiders, big-eyed bugs/assassin bugs, lady beetles, and all wasps).
  • Manually remove larger insects and place them in soapy water to drown.
  • Harvest crops such as peppers, squash and beans as soon as they are ripe. Allowing over-ripe fruits to remain on the plants often results in additional insect problems.

In the scorching Florida heat, it is important to always wear sunscreen and stay hydrated while gardening outside for a long period of time.

This summer, don’t take the easy route by buying out-of-season produce. Just imagine your friends and family enjoying delicious veggies grown in your own backyard!

For more tips on summer gardening, visit: http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/summer_vegetables.html

For a Florida gardening calendar by region and month, visit: http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/lawn_and_garden/calendar

For more detailed steps for planting vegetables, visit: Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide