In many ways, Northwest Florida is a great place for food growers. Almost year round growing seasons allow for a variety of edible crops to flourish here. There is a bevy of farmers markets, nurseries, and home and/or community gardeners with whom to consult.
If you’re thinking about trying your hand at food growing, many folks who’ve already made the plunge say not to worry, just get to it. You don’t need a farm or even acreage at all to grow things you can snack on. Containers or a few square feet of your yard can yield produce and herbs that will allow you to cook up homegrown goods every season.
So while the heat of summer is not the best time to plant, it is a great time to read up a little, decide what you want to grow, talk to some nurseries or community gardeners, and, if you want, try your hand at planting this September, the next good planting season.
Below is a list of advice for beginners from several local gardening pros. From soil and beginner-friendly crops to containers and raised beds, the following are recommendations to consider when dreaming up your foodscape, however big or small you decide to go.
Residential Horticulture Agent, Santa Rosa County Extension
Suggested crops for beginners: Green peppers, eggplant, broccoli, salad greens
On container gardening: “That’s the best way to do it, that’s how I have my vegetables.” Derrick stresses to make sure the container in which you are planting allows for water to drain (at least one hole in the bottom) through the soil to avoid root rot.
Suggested further reading: “Vegetable Gardening in Florida,” by James Stephens
Words of wisdom: “A garden is always a work in progress.”
Floral Tree Gardens
Suggested crops for beginners: Herbs
Know the Basics: “Compost you usually mix into your soil. Fertilizer is used as a topical.”
On container gardening: “When you’re planting in the ground, you deal with that never-ending bottom. When you’re container gardening, you have a lot more control of how long your resources last you.” You can enrich your soil using less compost, worm castings, etc. which are available at most nurseries
Preferred containers: Whiskey barrels, which are large enough to accommodate a few smaller plants and/or herbs, are popular
Benefits of local nurseries: “It’s important when people start growing things they’re going to eat that they come to a reliable local garden center that sells product for this area.”
Suggested further reading: Container Gardening Magazine
Member, The Local Motive and Community Gardening Pro
Suggested crops for beginners: Bok choy, beans and peas
Why she loves bok choy: “I think bok choy is actually one of the easiest things to grow. You can eat it raw, sautee it, put it in stir frys and soups.”
Why she gardens: “My first real garden was in pots, a lot of lettuces. That was the hook for me—how great it was to be able to go out back and get some fresh lettuce and herbs and throw something together.” Point of focus: “For me the biggest thing about gardening is focusing on the soil.” Bossa recommends adding organic materials such as wood chips and leaves to soil, in addition to compost occasionally
Fruit Tree Enthusiast and Home Gardener
Suggested crops for beginners: Satsuma and fig trees
Principles of permaculture: Read up on how large trees and their root systems will get. Plant where the tree will provide shade as it grows. Fig trees like being planted near buildings, as the roots find refuge beneath the house to avoid nematodes. As the tree grows, its shade will help to keep your home cool.
Mulch right: Keep mulch under the tree to keep weeds away, but be sure to keep it away from the trunk of the tree, especially with citrus trees
Caffeinated compost: If you start your own compost pile, add used coffee grounds to heat up the process
On keeping it simple: “Money and complication are obstacles to gardening. You want to keep it as simple as you can.”
GROW Community Garden Coordinator and Owner of Grow Your Garden
Suggested crops for beginners: Okra. Kindle says okra loves the heat, and at the end of last August, one 15 by 15 bed was yielding 30 pounds of okra a week, which he donated to Manna Food Pantries
Suggested study tips: “Do a little bit of research, see what you want to grow,” and also consult those you know who have attempted gardening before, “It’s usually best to talk to somebody who grows.”
Words of wisdom: “It’s all about the dirt.” Kindle is a believer in using raised beds, also.
Thoughts on foodscaping: “Why grow a lawn and just cut it when you can grow food and eat it?”
If you find you need professional help: Kindle owns a garden consulting business, “Grow Your Garden.” He’ll build your bed, remediate the soil before every planting season, and consult with you if you have additional questions
Vegetable Gardener at IRON at Marcus Pointe
Planting, to the point: “Just get it started. You’re gonna make mistakes, but you learn. And ask around, there are people doing it that love to share.”
Words of wisdom: Don’t plant a whole package of seeds at once if you’re just growing for your household, you’ll wind up with way more food than you can handle, “A couple of plants goes a long way.”