Considering Your Summer Options- March 2014

With the hottest part of the year approaching, the question every south Florida food gardener must ask themselves is whether they will grow over the summer or not. This is not an easy question! Although there is considerable payoff for summer growing, the drawbacks of working in the heat and humidity can be challenging.

So, if you are going to grow, there are some tropical vegetables you may want to consider. These include yams, sweet potatoes and jicama. All of these are vines, which can cover the beds or be grown up on trellises. Yams and sweet potatoes will need about 5 months to form nice tubers. Jicama may need up to 9 months, but he wait is well worth it, especially as you slice into the first succulent and sweet tuber. Another option is millet, which may be harvested for its grain.

Another option is to plant a cover crop. Although there is little experience with these in our region, it is time to try. I have grown millet as a cover crop, leaving the ripening seeds for wildlife and turning the stems and leaves into the soil for compost. The best cover crops are those in the legume (pea) family, which also store quantities of nitrogen and act as natural fertilizers. I stress again that there is little experience with cover crop usage in urban garden beds in this region- but it is certainly time to try. Besides capturing and storing nutrients within the garden bed, another benefit of cover crops are to crowd out weeds during the period when you are not growing food.

A third option is to solarize your beds. To do this, cover them for about two months with CLEAR plastic, tucking the sides down into the soil. This allows heat to build up and kill off weeds, weed seeds, harmful nematodes and disease-causing organisms. I have done this several times and it was wonderful to begin the season with no weeds or soil disease problems. You may want to consider this option if you find your plants damaged by nematodes or you have an excess of weeds.

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