There are quite a few uncommon crops that are reliably productive in the North Central region of Florida. One of the reasons few farms or gardens grow these uncommon crops is that they may simply not be aware the crops exist in the first place. When selecting any crop, it is necessary to choose a crop that is already adapted to local conditions. A plant that is well adapted to the local conditions will always be easier to manage and more productive.
How does one know if a particular crop is adapted for your area? Firstly, learn about the basic needs of each crop you are interested in. Is the crop native to Florida? Is it a tropical plant or does it come from a temperate climate? Is it from a jungle with lots of rain or from arid conditions? If the crop is not a good fit for your area, then don’t waste the time trying to grow it. If the crop is being grown for the purpose of selling it is important to consider whether or not a local market exists for this crop. If it doesn’t exist yet, perhaps plant on small acreage initially then expand as market demand increases. There are quite a few crops that many people consume every day, yet may not be aware they can be grown locally.
Tea is perhaps the most common beverage consumed worldwide and is a good option for the region. Tea plants are adapted for warm conditions and grow well in full sun and well drained soils. Tea leaves can be easily dried and sold for the local market. Another crop that is grown for similar purposes is yaupon holly, which is native to the area and extremely well adapted to most local conditions. The leaves can also be dried and used for yaupon holly tea. Lemon grass is another great option that is very productive and has a pleasant lemon flavor when used for tea. Sorrel, which is used to make hibiscus tea, is an excellent option and can be readily dried. Sorrel can also be turned into a delicious candy.
Two options that grow very well in partial shade are turmeric and ginger plants. These plants grow from rhizomes, which are modified underground stems, and do best in rich soil. Both of these plants can be used for tea and spice as well. Like sorrel, ginger can also be used for making candy.
Local banana fruit are quite rare, though many people attempt to grow this plant. Bananas like rich, well-drained soil with regular access to water, nutrients, and sunlight. A challenge for growing bananas is being able to provide for its needs and this is especially difficult in sandy soil. Another factor to consider is that bananas are not productive when the weather cools, though the cold will seldom kill a banana plant. When selecting a variety, it’s important to choose a variety that flowers and produces ripe fruit as quickly as possible. Another crop that grows well in similar conditions to bananas is sugarcane. Sugarcane can grow in both sandy soil and wet, mucky soil, though the latter is what it is most adapted for. This crop can be sold as fresh canes, juiced, or turned into syrup. Elderberry is a native plant that is adapted to a range of conditions and can tolerate wet soil. Elderberry produces berries that can be used for a wide range of purposes.
An outstanding alternative crop is passion fruit. Passion fruit plants produce uniquely delicious fruit. To effectively grow this plant, it needs access to direct sunlight, plenty of space to grow on a trellis, and planted in good quality soil. Passion fruit are quick growing plants and can produce an abundance of fruit in about a year. The high value fruit can be eaten raw or turned into juice and other value-added products like jams and jellies.