This is one in a series of occasional reports about South Florida gardens.
When you visit Beverly Montgomery-Williams at her Lauderdale Lakes home, you’ll get a big hug and an armful of cucumbers. Or, depending on what’s ripe, you may get a bag of fluffy lettuce, some jewel-toned eggplants or a pile of crisp beans.
“I’ve been growing things all my life,” she says. “I love it.”
As a child in Pensacola, she learned to grow veggies from her grandfather who had a field next to his house. She remembers helping him hoe around the collards and run a hose to water the tomatoes. Those were New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes, of course.
“I loved them warm, right off the vine,” she says.
Ever since, she’s been growing vegetables in the ground and in containers. “Just the idea that this tiny little seed turns into a nice little plant that brings out the bell peppers or whatever I’m growing is just amazing,” she says.
Today her backyard boasts a 400-square-foot plot that seems to get bigger every year.
“My husband complains but I tell him, ‘You can’t eat grass,’ ” she says as she turns more and more of it under to make room for cabbage, sweet potatoes, mustard greens and squash.
She also grows vegetables along the perimeter fence, and she has plastic bins from a grocery store that was going out of business in which she raises a field mix of lettuces.
Last year, she helped start the Community Garden Club of Lauderdale Lakes at Northwest 36th Street and U.S. 441. Here, on a quarter acre that was once a city parking lot, she helped build 32 boxes, each 5-by-10-feet, and filled them with dirt by so participants could grow vegetables.
She now volunteers in this garden up to 30 hours a week educating the novice and experienced growers about methods that work. She’s learned about vegetable gardening through trial and error as well as by studying research-based techniques. She was certified a master gardener in 2010.
She says that one of the most important lessons she’s garnered is that our growing season is different from that in other parts of the country.
“At first, I tried to plant things in the summer, and they never did anything,” she says. But she soon realized that the best time to grow vegetables is from fall to spring. So this time of year the dark, freshly turned earth of her backyard plot is filled with newly planted seeds and sprouting seedlings. She hopes to start harvesting by Thanksgiving.
She’s also discovered that like any piece of real estate, location is important. “If you are going to run out and grab some basil, you don’t want to have to catch the train to go get it. Tomatoes? You want to be able to grab and go. Want lettuce? Just run outside your kitchen door, if at all possible,” she says.
You also need a water source. Williams uses canal water as well as what she collects in a rain barrel constructed from a plastic garbage can with a screen on top to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs in it.
She waters her plants thoroughly two to three times a week. “Just stick your finger in the ground and see if it feels moist,” she says.
If necessary, hand water or use drip irrigation that saves water and doesn’t spread disease. And be sure to follow water restrictions in your neighborhood.