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Two growing seasons of South Florida – but what to grow in the summer?

Summer season vegetable growing in South Florida is not as hard as it might seem!

Photo Credit: David Stack

Florida gardeners have just proudly shared gorgeous photos of their Winter crops: kales, choi, tomatoes, herbs, etc. – harvested the last plants before the rainy season hits and… now what?

Most people think that Florida vegetable gardeners don’t have much to choose from in the summer months: it’s too hot, too humid, veggies get fungus and disease. Now come super fruit like mangoes and avocados, and everyone is forgetting to eat their greens. This can change if you discover the wonderful world of gourds and other cucurbits, as well as perennial spinaches, and a whole new dimension to veggie gardening in Florida will open to you!

Okra

Photo Credit: David Stack

This hot-loving vegetable is great in curries and stews. Young pods can also be eaten raw fresh from the plant. Make sure you harvest them daily, as the pods mature very quickly and become chewy.

Edible perennials / leafy greens

There are several edible leafy plants successfully growing in South Florida year round with little to no care. They are widely termed as “perennial spinaches”, though many of them are not even related to the common Northern spinach. These plants are gaining popularity in home gardens as they contain lots of phytonutrients and don’t require special soil or raised beds. Some of the options include Okinawa, Longevity and Surinam Spinach.

 

Photo Credit: David Stack

Gourds/squashes/pumpkins and Beans

There are lots of gourds that grow amazingly well in South Florida. Many of them are cultivated in Asia and Africa as important vegetable crops, however, they are less well known here in Florida. The taste of most gourds is neutral, they can be cooked in soups, curries, stews or even eaten raw like zucchini. Bitter gourd/melon is definitely an acquired taste because, well, it’s quite bitter! Young pumpkin shoots are edible and are widely used in Asian countries like India and Nepal as a green vegetable for cooking curries and soups. A whole variety of interesting beans can be grown in the summer – consider winged bean, Thai purple yard long bean or Chinese python snake bean (in the photo) for an added interest in your summer garden.

Root Vegetables & rhizomatous herbs

Sweet potatoes can be grown all summer long in South Florida. They grow from “slips” – shoots that emerge from a tuber – just like “eyes” of a regular potato, or from cuttings that are very easy to root. Sweet potato is related to Morning glory and Moonflower and is an attractive ground-cover that grows year round. Young shoots are edible and can be eaten as a leafy vegetable.

Turmerics and gingers that have been dormant in Winter are starting to wake up just about now. This is the best time to start growing them, you could easily find turmeric and ginger rhizomes in a grocery store – if they have viable buds, they will grow in your garden.

You can also grow culinary herbs like Cuban oregano and Culantro during South Florida summer. For an expanded list of veggies you can grow in the summer, click here. For specific planting dates, please refer to the Planting Calendar for South Florida

Where to buy seeds/plants

As a general rule, you can collect and plant seed from your own or store-bought fruit if the variety is marked heirloom. These plants have not undergone any hybridization, come true to parent and will keep producing the same fruit/crop year after year. Many commercially grown varieties are hybrids; therefore plants grown from those seeds may or may not be the same as the parent plant, so look out for heirlooms for dependable seeds.

The perennial spinaches mentioned above are propagated from cuttings. Local gardening club members will surely have them to share or trade, as these are the easiest to grow. You can also find them for sale at local farms, food cooperatives, or at county events like local plant sales. As for quality seeds, there are several resources online that sell heirloom seeds. This seed purchase guide might be helpful.

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