At a time when my tween daughter is fully entrenched in texting and technology, some very strange words have been falling out of her mouth. “Dad, you promised we would have cucumbers this year, right?” “Dad, you are going to build that second vegetable garden bed like you said, aren’t you?” “I don’t think we planted enough carrots last year.”
She has been peppering me with these comments and questions for the last two months because she knows it is almost time to plant our edible garden. What could possibly tear a tween away from the Internet and all the ‘LOLs’ a smartphone requires each day? It is the draw of growing her own vegetables and it has captivated her ever since she planted those first cherry tomatoes when she was only 5.
If you have never planted a vegetable garden, now is the perfect time to start. And by involving the whole family you will gain more than just a bountiful garden. You will gain knowledge, togetherness and a true sense of accomplishment for your little ones. My daughter has told me many times that she simply will not eat tomatoes from the grocery store because they have no flavor whatsoever. Yet she picks and gobbles tomatoes from our garden each day after school as though they were ice cream covered in chocolate.
As nighttime temperatures begin to dip below 70 degrees, the season is right for planting vegetables. While the rest of the country prepares for freezing temperatures and a bitter winter, South Florida’s climate becomes just right for growing. Early November is the best time to plant, but you can start preparing your garden now.
A vegetable garden in South Florida needs to be planted in a raised bed, as our calcareous native soil is rocky and has a high pH. Make your bed about four feet wide so you can reach the center from either side and then you can make it as long as you like. If this is your first year making a garden, an eight-foot by four-foot bed should be just right.
You want to create a border for your bed that is at least 18 inches deep to hold in the soil. The border can be made of cinder blocks, brick, stone, plastic or non-pressure treated wood. Fill the bed with soil that is rich in organic material and drains well. If money is not an object, you can use some of the pre-mixed potting soils found in the home improvement stores. Just make sure they contain Perlite, as this is essential to help with drainage. A cheaper option is to use some soils that are not pre-mixed. Just be sure to add Perlite to help with drainage.
Over time, you can augment your soil with compost. Composting is easy to do in South Florida and you can make your own composting bin with just some wire mesh and zip ties. You can find out how to make your own composting bin on Fairchild’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/fairchildgarden.
Once you create your bed, start to plan your planting. It’s a good idea to make a list of what you want and then to map where you will plant everything. Much of what you plant will be from seed and if you don’t map it out, you won’t know what is what when the seeds germinate.
You can plant seeds of lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, bush beans (preferred over pole beans) and squash directly into your garden. Other crops such as tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant and peppers should go into your garden as seedlings. Herbs such as basil, oregano, mint, rosemary, cilantro, catnip, lavender and sage should also be planted as seedlings.