The new school year has begun for students attending Miami Dade County Public Schools. Teachers and students will soon have a chance to look at last year’s school gardens. What will they find?
Most likely these school gardens are in disarray, full of weeds or wiped clean by a weed eater during landscape cleanup in preparation for the start of a new school year. We encountered our own overgrown, weedy shadehouse conditions when Extension Staff returned from working remotely during the worst of Covid this past year.
Not to worry, while temperatures are still above average it is not yet time to plant the fall vegetable garden in South Florida. Rather it is a time to work on cleaning up the garden and begin planning what you would like you and your students to experience and experiment with growing this school year.
Cleaning up the Garden Site Tips
First, pull out the weeds and cover the raised beds with clear plastic or black plastic to solarize nematodes and other harmful organisms. This can also help dampen down the weed seeds that may be lurking in soil by blocking sunlight needed for them to sprout. We refer to this as the ‘seed bank’.
Have a good look at your soil, has it become compacted? Depleted? Light colored instead of a dark rich organic mix? If it has degraded and become low in nutrient content add amendments. Keep the mix light so your soil will remain aerated and not hold too much moisture. If you feel it needs to be replaced, move the old soil to a place where you can add composted materials and bring it to life to use again.
This list of recommendations and trouble shooting problems could go on. Instead we would suggest you call our Master Gardeners on staff and also visit Gardening Solutions – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu) and get started with Vegetable Gardening in Florida Series – Gardening Solutions – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu).
What to Plant and When to Plant
Right Plant, Right Place, Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Principle # 1 comes into play here, also Right Time should be a consideration. Traditional vegetable plants grow best in South Florida in our relatively cooler late fall, winter, and early spring seasons. Our Gardening Solutions website provides a list of vegetables, fruit trees and herbs to plant by month but this can still be challenging as we are extreme South Florida and temperatures are ever rising.
If you are planning on planting Perennial Edibles and Fruit Trees, the time to plant is in our rainy season-Now. We created a presentation on Edibles Perennials that are easy to grow here, contact us to schedule a presentation for your students, community gardens and gardening groups. We can do this presentation virtually! should Covid-19 precautions come into consideration. If this need arises, we will drop off helpful publications and share seeds and cuttings of some of the plants featured in this presentation for school presentations.
In my garden at home, I am feasting on Longevity Spinach and the fruits that are in season and abundant now: Carambola, longans, avocado, sugar apples, sapodillas and mamey, spiced up with rosemary, Chinese garlic chives, hardy parsley, and ginger.
Garden hacks, aka where to find some of the interesting perennials we can grow are provided in the Edible Perennials presentation . Did you know you can start growing chayote, jicama, ginger (and more) from grocery store produce?
And of course, a list of easy to grow plants for our ever-important pollinators (butterflies too!) is included in this presentation as well.
Look for upcoming presentations open to all on Edible Gardening on our Eventbrite page here UF IFAS Miami Dade Urban Horticulture Program Events | Eventbrite and on our Website calendar here Events – UF/IFAS Extension (ufl.edu). The website calendar notes our composting workshops!
Contact us for more information, we are here to help! Keep it Florida-Friendly, be safe and stay cool.
Last tip, work in the mornings when it is cooler or cloud covered days.