Florida is known for a lot of unique things. Palm trees, beaches, warm breezes, orange trees, and cattle are signature Florida images. Vegetable fields do not come to most people’s minds, partly because most vegetable fields are well off the beaten paths. Towns with names like Homestead, Ruskin, Immokalee, Belle Glade, and Pahokee harbor acres of crops that feed the whole of the United States and beyond. The uniqueness of Florida is its mild winters and rich soils. I realize there is some scoffing about the rich soils. My brethren that live on the scrubs in the Heartland of Florida seem to find their gardens are mostly sand. Did you know that Florida leads the nation producing, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, snap bean, and watermelon, not to mention oranges and grapefruit? Yes there are fertile soils, found all around the sandy soils of the Lake Wales Ridge, which support Florida as the number one producers of some vegetables to the rest of the United States. We will soon reveal the mystery of Florida vegetable gardening.
Rows of lettuce plants growing in rich Belle Glade, Florida soil. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
“Did you know that Florida leads the nation producing, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, snap bean, and watermelon, not to mention oranges and grapefruit?”
When to plant, timing?
Despite the lack of organic material in some Florida soils, that isn’t necessarily the reason for most vegetable gardens not succeeding. Of course, there are many reasons, but one that seems to be fairly common is just planting things at the wrong time. Florida creates a unique situation that some northern farmers aren’t familiar with. What they often grow in the summer up north, is grown in the winter in Florida. Florida’s hot summers offers very little choices for vegetable gardening. Plants such as okra and sweet potatoes are among the few possibilities. Problems like diseases and insects plague Florida’s warm summers. Other problems like planting some vegetables too early may result in blooms rather than fruit. Tomatoes that grow well during times of warm temperatures have issues setting fruit because of the heat. Confused yet? The “Florida Vegetable Growing Guide” may clear up the issue with when to plant.
Vegetable class could help too
The University of Florida’s, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS) has Extension offices in every county in Florida. Many of the Extension agents offer some sort of vegetable growing workshops. In Highlands County, I offer workshops twice a year in August and January. My January workshop is on Saturday the 6th and starts at 9 pm and runs until 12 pm. We’ll cover timing, as well as many other topics for those beginner Florida vegetable growers. You’ll get the Florida Vegetable Growing Guide as well as another 90 pages of University of Florida information on growing vegetables. The cost of the class is $5 but you’ll need to register so we have enough handouts. You can call the office for information at 863 402-6540 or go directly “Eventbrite“, https://hcvegetableworkshop.eventbrite.com