Florida’s Rainy Season
Florida’s rainy season arrived. County-wide we have seen lots of moisture in the past couple of weeks. Some areas receive over 2” of rainfall in an hour. Despite the invaluable impacts of moisture within our natural areas and gardens, Florida’s summer mugginess makes it difficult to spend time working in our gardens. In addition, for our gardens, the heat seemingly limits what we may do in our vegetable gardens. Despite the heat and humidity steering us away from tending our vegetable gardens in the summer, we have the ability to plant, prepare, and protect our gardens. This will allow us to Beat the Heat and have a wonderful garden.
Our summer gardening article series, “In the Garden, We Grow” explores different facets of creating and maintaining your own vegetable garden – including its wonderful personal and community benefits. Previous articles discussed building gardens, managing garden soil, and cool-season crops. This week’s article will explore maintaining your vegetable garden in Florida’s summer.
Ultimately I recommended limiting time exposed to our summer heat and staying well hydrated because heat stroke/exhaustion and dehydration set in very quickly. Therefore, I recommend working in your garden in the early mornings or evenings to help avoid the heat of the day.
When considering typical fruits and vegetables we grow in our gardens, many of those plants may be cooler-season plants. We have many wonderful things we can plant throughout the summer – including very unique plants. Some of the most common summer vegetables and fruits include southern peas, peppers, heat-tolerant tomatoes, and cucumbers. More unique plants include gingers, roselle, tropical spinach, Seminole pumpkins, okra, calabaza, and chayote (to name a few).
More so, of the plants listed above, some of my favorites include Seminole pumpkin, okra, and roselle. These three hardy plants can be grown in different parts of your landscape, not just in your vegetable gardens. Okra and roselle are part of the Malvaceae plant family – which have characteristically beautiful hibiscus-like flowers. Not only will they provide food, but they also provide a spectacular pop of color to your landscape.
Our summer months may also be a great time to protect and prepare your garden for the upcoming months. Protecting and preparing will limit your exposure to Florida’s heat while helping support your garden’s overall health. Protecting refers to protecting our garden from root-knot nematodes and preparing refers to building healthy soils.
Root-knot nematodes are nefarious microscopic organisms that cause garden issues. Rotating crops around your garden prevents root-knot nematodes from establishing a detrimental population. Solarization is the easiest way to control root-knot nematodes and it requires very little work and patience. Solarization is the process of covering your garden with a clear plastic sheet during the heat of the summer. The plastic allows light in and traps heat, effectively creating a small greenhouse. It’ll heat the soil and kill nematodes. Plan on leaving the plastic in your garden for six weeks to be effective.
Lastly, preparing your garden for the cool season may begin with planting summer cover crops. Summer cover crops in your garden can help build soil organic matter, provide nutrients to future plantings, provide habitat for beneficial microorganisms, help reduce problematic nematode populations, and protect your topsoil. We grow these plants “Green Manure.” After growing these very low-maintenance plants in your garden, you knock them down and let them break down in your garden. Many gardeners till them in into the soil while others may “chop-and-drop”, which is a no-till gardening method. Some of the common summer cover crop species include cowpea, sun hemp, velvet bean, and marigold.
In conclusion, Florida’s summers are notoriously humid and hot. Although the heat may keep us from maintaining our gardens, our ability to plant, protect, or prepare our gardens for future plantings is important. Luckily, these relatively low-maintenance projects provide our gardens a powerful productivity boost. So as you continue into the garden, remember that no matter how hot or humid, “In the Garden, We Grow.”